Blue-winged Teal

A Blue-winged Teal in flight with a GPS tracker
Blue-winged Teal (BWTE), part of the dabbling duck family, are one of three teal varieties found in North America, alongside the Green-winged Teal (GWTE) and the Cinnamon Teal (CITE). BWTE are known for their long-distance migrations, remarkable agility, and the vibrant blue coloring on the drakes’ wings. Much smaller than many dabbling ducks, an adult will weigh 10-18 ounces. The prairie pothole region (PPR) is the heart of BWTE breeding grounds, serving as a crucial habitat. However, many teal can be seen on small farm ponds and “tanks” in agricultural land far south of the PPR, where they often spend the summer. This choice is partly because Blue-winged Teal require little water for breeding and will often halt at the first sign of suitable water on their northbound journey. This fact is reinforced by 50 Ducks‘ observation of two GPS-banded BWTEs. Neither of which migrated further north than Oklahoma. The onset of courtship among immature blue-winged teal often starts in late January or early February. In areas south of the breeding grounds, blue-winged teal are more active in courtship during the spring migration than many other duck species.
A Drake Blue-winged Teal in the water.
Blue-winged Teal are typically among the last dabbling ducks to nest, nesting mainly between April and May. This late nesting, in conjunction with being the first ducks to embark on the fall migration cycle, gives them a unique presence in their breeding grounds. BWTE sensitivity to cold weather means they are headed south months before many other species. BWTE are obligate migrants, which means their migration is driven by day length rather than weather or other external factors that might push waterfowl south. With our first GPS-tagged BWTE, we have observed migration feats such as: over 575 miles traveled in 11 hours, top speeds of 80MPH, and a maximum altitude of over 9,500 feet. Blue-winged teal generally lay around 10 eggs. Delayed nesting and renesting efforts after a failed first nest attempt generally result in smaller clutch sizes. Clutch size can also vary with the hen’s age, with yearlings tending to lay smaller clutches. Ducklings can generally walk to water within 12 hours and fledge after 5-7 weeks. Understanding the migratory behavior and nesting patterns of the Blue-winged Teal is vital for conservation efforts. These birds’ wintering habitats are often under threat from environmental changes, and their migratory routes can be perilous. The study of the first tagged ducks provides an invaluable window into the life of these incredible birds, contributing significantly to our comprehension of their habits, needs, and survival strategies. Follow along with 50 Ducks as we continue to GPS track BWTE across the continent! Blue-winged Teal are a source of fascination for bird watchers and hunters alike as they engage in spectacular migrations and unique nesting behaviors. Today, there are around 6.5 million of these magnificent birds across North America.
Fat Daddy, a Blue-winged Teal

Range map provided by Birds of the World 

Data from USFWS