Blue-Winged Teal

Blue-winged teal are on the move at Goose Pond Sanctuary!

Recently we saw an impressive flock of 200 blue-wings.  Blue- wings are small ducks, fast in flight, flocks twisting and turning in unison.  In fall the best identification is the on the upper wing coverts that are blue-gray and the secondaries form an iridescent green speculum and the underwing is whitish.  

Blue-winged teal are generally the first ducks to head south in the fall and the last ones to return north in the spring. Adult drakes depart the breeding grounds well before adult hens and immatures. Most blue-winged teal flocks seen after mid-September are composed largely of adult hens and immatures. Blue-winged teal winter in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas and also in Central and South America.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service conducts annual aerial waterfowl breeding surveys that were developed by wildlife biologists including Art Hawkins, a Aldo Leopold graduate student at Faville Grove Sanctuary.  This year, the Service estimated the US and Canada spring blue-winged teal population at 8,550,000 and 73 % above the long-term average.  This is the second most abundant duck behind the mallard.  The Wisconsin DNR estimated the state’s 2015 population at 59,000.  At Goose Pond we only found four nesting pairs of blue-wings compared to an average of about 25 pairs.   The pond completely filled in with arrowhead this summer that provided excellent brood cover but did not allow us to see any broods for the bird atlas.

Blue-winged teal are surface feeders and prefer to feed on mud flats or in shallow water where there is floating and shallowly submerged vegetation plus abundant small aquatic animal life. They primarily eat vegetative matter consisting of seeds or stems and leaves of many plant species including sedges, grasses, pondweed, smartweed, and duckweed.  They also feed on animal matter such as mollusks, crustaceans, and insects.

Goose Pond water levels are below normal this fall even though we received over five inches of rain the third week of September.  However, the low water levels are providing ideal habitat for teal and other dabbling ducks. We hope you get a chance to see blue-winged teal before they depart for warmer areas.

Written by Mark and Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary Managers

Photo by Len Blumin, Flickr Creative Commons