by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D.
Look how this male, with his characteristic white facial crescent identifying him as a Blue-winged Teal, stands proud and vigilant with a female. This photo was taken in March when these dabbling ducks begin to pair up. Notice she has a ‘ghost’ of a crescent’…a lighter patch next to her bill. Both have blue upper wings feathers—a very thin sliver peeking out from under each of their secondary covert wing feathers- which are not fully visible until they fly. Her feather pattern is beautiful, each feather interestingly, artistically shaped and outlined in a lighter color, even down on her flanks, unlike his speckled breast.
Pair bonding often occurs on wintering grounds as in this Florida wetland. They forage together amongst the plants, feeding on aquatic insects, snails, crustaceans, and plant material, including seeds in their warm wintering lands. One of our most common wintering ducks, they congregate in large groups but usually pair by pair. By May, they’ve stored fat energy for their long migration to prairies and wetlands in northern US and southern Canada.
From June to July, the female chooses a nesting site and a day before egg laying, builds the nest by scraping away the grasses, then lining it with those grasses, breast feathers, and down. She lays one egg each morning, averaging for 10 days. After waiting a few days with no further eggs, she begins nocturnally to incubate all the eggs so the ducklings hatch within a day of each other. Prior to hatching, the female gives a maternal call-like calling the down covered hatchlings out at 22 per minute calls, then to 145/min call when calling them to exit the nest. The ducklings are immediately able to follow the mother who readily leads them into the water to swim and find food—insects, snails, small animals, vegetation and seeds.
Blue-winged Teal may be seen through April at TM Goodwin and Broadmoor Conservation areas on Thursdays, but by mid-May most will have left for their breeding grounds, not returning until August-October to winter here.