Green-winged Teal in Little Lake Valley

As winter progresses and we continue to have the gift of decent rainfall, Little Lake Valley has flooded and filled with the familiar sound of waterfowl. We have many species that are found in the wetlands and ponds including Canada Geese, White-fronted Geese, American and Eurasian Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon Teals, and the ducks I want to talk about today, the diminutive Green-winged Teal.

The Green-winged teal, Anus crecca, is the smallest dabbling duck in North America. It is a compact duck that sits high on the water. The males have a dark chestnut head with a brilliant green crescent that goes from the eye to the back of the head and a vertical white line on their shoulder that extends to the waterline. Both sexes have light rumps with buffy yellowish stripes along the tail that you can see when they are heads down in the water doing their dabbling for food. The reason they are called Green-winged Teal is because when either male or females are in flight, they have bright green wing patches showing that are called specula. The females are mostly brownish dark, with light patches creating patterns on their bodies.

As I was researching, I learned that there are two forms of Green-winged Teal that were originally considered distinct species, the American and the Eurasian. They differ only in that the American form has a vertical white shoulder stripe and the Eurasian has a horizontal white stripe. This was new information for me and now I will be looking to find the Eurasian form which is not as common.

Green-winged teals are a migrant here in the winters where they live in shallow wetlands, ponds, and flooded fields. They leave in late winter and early spring to breed along rivers in the north and congregate in large groups of up to 50,000 individuals. Teals eat small invertebrates and seeds and other plants, while chicks eat mainly insect larvae.

Right now, we have more than one hundred of these feisty, small ducks out in the valley making their non-duck-like sounds. The males make a high whistle sound, and the females can give low grunting quacking sounds but, as I observed recently, their sound repertoire is varied especially as the breeding courtship begins. This is what caught my attention as I was doing my regular bird survey. I had never noticed or observed that these small ducks were so dramatic while courting. The sounds that I heard were guttural and unusual with males seeming to stand up in the water, spread their chests wide, do a bowing curve of their necks, and display a head tuft that seemed to make their heads bigger. It was a delightful presentation aimed primarily at females but also towards other males. Females seemed to be oblivious to all the drama around them, but I did see one female Green-winged Teal do a similar curved head movement.

As I looked around, I noticed that other species of ducks were doing some courting too. Mallards and Hooded Mergansers were observed acting more aggressive amongst the nearby males. There just seemed to be a cacophony of activity with bathing, splashing, loud quacking and honking. It was as if spring was around the corner though there is still a bit more winter in store for us.

If you get a chance, take a drive around Little Lake Valley, particularly to the north end along Reynolds Highway and enjoy the sounds and sights of the waterfowl.