Bird Lore: Blue-winged Teal

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The Blue-winged Teal is an occasional visitor to Edmonds, usually seen in the marsh in spring. Last year two males passed through, spending several days around the marsh. Within the last couple of weeks there were two males and a female. LeRoy’s photos are of two of this year’s visitors, a drake (above) and a hen (below). This is a small dabbling duck that prefers calm, shallow water. It winters in South America and is a late spring migrant, usually passing through our area in May. All known Edmonds sightings have been around the marsh. Other possible habitats include the pond at Pine Ridge Park and at Chase Lake.

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As with the other dabbling ducks, the diet of the Blue-winged Teal is mostly plant material, such as pondweed and sedges. It will also eat some snails, bivalves, crustaceans, insects, and other animal matter. This dabbling duck forages by swimming with its head partly submerged. It rarely upends itself to feed and it seldom feeds away from water.

Pair formation begins in early winter and continues through spring migration. This duck has varied courtship displays. The most interesting is when the male upends himself with his tail raised and his feet waving in the air. The female scouts for her nest site by flying over fields. The nest is on the ground, usually in a prairie, hayfield or coastal meadow, and usually within several hundred yards of water. The nest is a shallow depression of grass or weeds and is well-concealed by vegetation. The female incubates her 9-13 eggs for about 23 days. The young leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching. They find their own food even though the female tends them for their first few weeks. They can fly 38-49 days after hatching.

The Blue-winged Teal is the second most abundant duck in North America, following the Mallard, which is the most abundant. Its numbers are not apparent to those who watch ducks in Western Washington, as this is the westerly edge of its range. Also, since it is late to arrive and early to head south, it does not seem as abundant as waterfowl censuses indicate. It spends more time concealed in the vegetation of pond edges so it is not as obvious to the casual observer as are other duck species. In fall migration, flocks of exclusively young birds have been noted. This suggests that the migratory path of this species is instinctive instead of learned.

The male makes what has been described as a high-pitched wheezy call. You can hear it, along with the lower-pitched call of a female at this site: http://www.xeno-canto.org/110080.

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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