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home : birding w/don reimer : birding w/don reimer
January 29, 2020

2/26/2009 2:45:00 PM
Green-winged Teal -
A drake Mallard and female Green-winged Teal photographed in Friendship earlier this month  Photo: Don Reimer
A drake Mallard and female Green-winged Teal photographed in Friendship earlier this month Photo: Don Reimer
by Don Reimer

As the smallest of the North American dabbling ducks, the drake Green-winged Teal weighs less than a pound. Females weigh a mere 6 ounces. In direct comparison, they are about a third of the size of a Mallard. These teal are recognized by their compact body, rounded head and narrow black bill. Scanning through groups of waterfowl in search of birds that differ in size, shape or color patterns can pay dividends. Northern Pintails and American Wigeon are occasionally found within such winter flocks. In the above photo, the teal was readily apparent due to its noticeable size contrast with the larger ducks.

The boldly patterned drake Green-wing is recognized by its spotted light-gray body, cinnamon-colored head with a glossy greenish mask, and a yellow undertail. A vertical white line demarcates the breast and flank areas. Females and young are a dull mottled brown. Both sexes show an iridescent green wing patch that is most evident in flight or when they stretch to feed or preen. Following the nesting season, these ducks rapidly molt the majority of their flight and body feathers in an "eclipse" plumage. Like most other ducks, they are unable to fly well for several weeks. By October, the adult ducks have acquired their colorful breeding plumage for the following spring.

In winter, Green-wings stay farther north than their close cousins, the Blue-winged Teal. "Greenies" are found occasionally on December Christmas bird counts. By February, a limited number start to arrive in Maine in preparation for the nesting season. Despite their small body mass, these are hardy little birds that can tolerate cold weather conditions. They are also vocal ducks, producing a raspy, shrill "krick, krick" vocalization that reminds us of a gathering of spring peepers.

These swift-winged, agile teal fly in tight, twisting formations. They prefer shallow freshwater ponds and potholes during the nesting season but are found along tidal creeks, mudflats and saltwater marshes during spring and fall migrations. Nearly 80 percent of the Green-wing population nests in marshy areas north of the U.S. border. With ample Canadian nesting habitat, their population has remained relatively stable in recent decades.

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