Bird Finder for March 3: Green-winged Teal
by Nick Bonomo
As the calendar turns to March we will notice a drastic increase in the number and diversity of migrant dabbling ducks in our wetlands, including this tiny species.
What it looks like: Green-winged Teal is our smallest North American duck species with a length of only 14 inches. Males and females are plumaged very differently from one another. The striking males pack a lot of color and pattern into their small package. They show a dark rufous head with a broad green patch behind the eye, a buffy breast specked with dark spots, a gray body with an obvious vertical white bar at the side of the breast, and a beige patch on the side of the tail.
Females are mostly brown with a dark line through the cheek, a faint pale eye ring, and a thick buffy line on the side of the tail.
Both males and females show a green speculum bordered by whitish lines when seen in flight.
Where to find it: This species is found in its greatest numbers in our larger coastal salt marshes. They can be particularly abundant at the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Coastal Center at Milford Point. They can occur in any wetland, inland or coastal, and also may be seen along the open coast or at inland ponds.
When to look: While they may be present anytime between August and May, Green-winged Teal peak in abundance during the month of March, when up to several hundred can be seen at once at places like Milford Point.
Keep an eye out for: If, while looking through a flock of Green-winged Teal this spring, you notice a male with a long horizontal bar down the bird’s side rather than a short vertical bar at the breast side, you have found a “Eurasian” Green-winged Teal. A couple of individuals of this subspecies are usually found every March-April in the state. The two forms hybridize, which would be indicated by a bird that has both a vertical and horizontal stripe. Both the “Eurasian” form and their hybrids are rare in these parts.
Conservation status: From an all-time low of 722,000 birds in 1962, Green-winged Teal populations have grown steadily since. In 2009, they reached an all-time high of 3.4 million (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).
Photo of male Green-winged Teal by Dick Daniels; photo of female by New Jersey Birds. Both courtesy of Carolinabirds.org.