What Is the Blue-Winged Teal?

The Blue-winged Teal is a migratory dabbling duck, admired for its striking blue wing patches and agile flight. These birds traverse continents, showcasing nature's resilience and adaptability. Their behavior and habitats offer a window into the health of our wetlands. How does their journey reflect the state of our natural world? Join us to uncover the significance of their voyage.
Angie Bates
Angie Bates

The blue-winged teal is the second most common duck in the United States and Canada. Common to wetlands and small ponds, this dabbling duck is flightless during its summer molt, but makes up for its grounding by sometimes traveling as far as South America for its winter migration. The scientific name for the blue-winged teal is Anas discors.

Male blue-winged teals have steely gray heads and necks. Both males and females have blue-gray feathers on their upper wings, though the females' coloring is duller. The rest of their bodies are shades of patterned brown, except for the the edge of the upper wings in males. These feathers are a bright, iridescent green. In breeding season, the males also have a curving white line of feathers outlining the bill, and their breasts are more boldly speckled.

A small duck, the blue-wing teal averages between 14.2 and 16.1 inches (36–41 cm) long. As with most ducks, the males are slightly larger than the females. The average wingspan of these ducks is 22–24.4 inches (56–62 cm).

Blue-winged teal ducks may feed on water lilies.
Blue-winged teal ducks may feed on water lilies.

The blue-winged teal inhabits calm freshwater or brackish areas, mostly marshes, ponds, and small lakes. They are particularly abundant during breeding season in the wetlands area of the central United States called the Prairie Pothole region. These ducks are often seen in pairs or groups, and frequently inhabit the same areas as other duck species.

Called a dabbler, the blue-winged teal typically feeds by dipping its beak, dunking its head, or tipping half its body underwater. It feeds on seeds and other grains, particularly in the winter, as well as aquatic insects and crustaceans. Aquatic vegetation, such as water lilies, may also be part of its diet.

During mating season, these ducks can be found mostly in pairs. Nests are made by the female and are simple circular depressions in the ground under the cover of foliage. The nests are lined with grass and down. The female lays 6–14 eggs and incubates them for three or four weeks while the male stands guard, but once the eggs hatch, the male leaves. Nestlings are born downy and are mobile after a few days.

Though up to 65 percent of these ducks die each year, the blue-winged teal is still an extremely abundant species in North America. In 2009, their estimated average population over the previous decade was around 6 million. The only other duck species with a greater population is the mallard.

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    • Blue-winged teal ducks may feed on water lilies.
      By: Pavel Klimenko
      Blue-winged teal ducks may feed on water lilies.