Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
By Matt Beatty
For many IAS members, the best part about birding in Indiana is the chance to see such a rich diversity of neotropical migrants that spend the nesting season in our forests and woodlands. In the cold winter months, we dream about the Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, and countless migrant warblers that will arrive in the spring from the distant tropics. For many birders, the phrase “neotropical migrant” is synonymous with these colorful forest songbirds. Many do know realize that the Blue-winged Teal, one of our most familiar duck species, is just as much a neotropical migrant as the Blackburnian Warbler or American Redstart.
Blue-winged Teal are among the most abundant duck species in North American, and are a very common duck in Indiana during spring and fall migration. A majority are headed to breeding territory farther north, but some will stay and nest within our state. In the fall, Blue-winged Teal migrate south. While some winter on the southeastern coast of the United States, most continue farther south to the Caribbean and the north coast of South America. Banded individuals have been recovered south of the equator in South America.
Because this species migrates such long distances, this is the last species of waterfowl to return in the spring and the first to leave at the end of the summer, so their time in our wetlands can be exceedingly short. Most of Indiana’s breeding activity takes place in the northern half of the state, but the teal breed in the southwest portion of the state as well. Blue-winged Teal use wetlands with plenty of invertebrates to feed on, lots of vegetative cover in and around the wetland, and nesting sites on the adjacent uplands. The marshes of the Calumet and Indiana Dunes region are one of the primary nesting areas within the state. Females lay one egg a day, and nests consist of over a dozen eggs. In some areas, 90% of nests fail due to nest predation by mammals.
Adult males are an easy bird for a beginning birder to learn how to identify. Their small size stands out amongst a group of larger ducks like Mallards and Gadwall, and the white crescent on the face is unmistakable. Mirroring the white crescent at the front of the bird is a white patch near the rump. The female is drab brown overall, with no obvious distinguishing plumage traits. Both sexes, however, have a sky-blue patch on the upper wing. This blue patch is hidden when the bird is at rest but shows brilliantly when the birds are in flight. A tight-knit flock of blue-winged teal circling above a wetland, their blue wing patches flashing in the sunlight, is a highlight of spring.
Crossley ID Guide: Waterfowl
Photo by Shari McCollough