The nature center at Pioneer Ridge Nature Area has a wall of windows that overlooks the pond behind the center. This spring, we have been witness to a variety of waterfowl. We have a goose preparing a nest right now, and the wood ducks visit quite regularly. They likely have nests in the vicinity. We have also seen green-winged and blue-winged teal. The latter have been here for a few weeks. We are within their nesting range, so maybe they also have nests nearby.
Both the blue and green-winged teals are dabbling ducks. This means they feed in shallow waters by up-ending to reach the underwater food. They are also both small ducks. They would be dwarfed by a mallard.
Blue-winged teal are one of the latest ducks to migrate north in spring, and they are one of the first to migrate south in the fall. The males have a slate-blue head with a crescent of white behind the bill. They are brown with darker speckles on the breast, and they have a small white patch near the tail. As you can see in the picture, a patch of blue on the wings is visible during flight. Females are brown in color with the blue patch of color on the wings.
Blue-winged teal eat aquatic vegetation, insects, crustaceans, clams and snails. They are considered the second most abundant duck in North America – only the mallard has a larger population. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey numbers fluctuate between about 2.8 million and 7.4 million birds. The difference is mainly caused by water conditions such as drought. Their early departure in the fall also helps since many are likely gone before duck hunting season begins.
Green-winged teal are smaller than the blue-winged, and are the smallest dabbling duck in North America. The males have a brown (cinnamon) colored head with a brilliant green stripe from the eye to the back of the head. Their body is grayish in color with a white stripe from the shoulder down to the waterline. They and the brown-colored females have green wing patches as well.
Green-winged teal also prefer shallow bodies of water such as wetlands and river deltas where they can easily feed on aquatic seeds and invertebrates. They will at times dive to find food or escape from predators. Most will summer and nest in Canada and Alaska. After migrating south, they may form winter roosting flocks of up to 50,000 birds. They are common ducks with populations of at least 4 million birds according to the 2015 waterfowl surveys by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Both species nest on the ground in grassy areas near water. Here their nest will be hidden on all sides and from above by tall vegetation. The males will protect the female from other would be mates until she begins to incubate the eggs. The male then leaves the female alone with the eggs and young. The chicks are able to swim, dive, walk and forage for themselves within a few hours of hatching, but he female will still care for them and protect them.
It is going to be a beautiful weekend. Make sure you get outdoors to see what is happening. Butterflies are waking up from winter slumber and migrating back. Birds are still migrating through the area. Woodland wildflowers are really starting to pop (bloodroot, spring beauty, anemone, Virginia bluebells, toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, and violets have all been seen this week). You never know what you might find if you just take a short walk in nature.
Photos courtesy of Larry Reis