IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Pairs and small groups of this tiny dabbling duck inhabit shallow ponds and wetlands across much of North America. Blue-winged Teal are long distance migrants, with some birds heading all the way to South America for the winter. Therefore, they take off early on spring and fall migration, leaving their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada well before other species in the fall.
A small dabbling duck, a Blue-winged Teal is dwarfed by a Mallard and only a touch larger than a Green-winged Teal. Head is rounded and bill is on the large side.
Breeding males are brown-bodied with dark speckling on the breast, slaty-blue head with a white crescent behind the bill, and a small white flank patch in front of their black rear. Females and eclipse males are a cold, patterned brown. In flight, they reveal a bold powder-blue patch on their upperwing coverts.
Pairs and small groups dabble and up-end to reach submerged vegetation. You'll often find Blue-winged Teal with other species of dabbling ducks. They are often around the edges of ponds under vegetation, choosing a concealed spot to forage or rest.
Look for Blue-winged Teal on calm bodies of water from marshes to small lakes. The prairie-pothole region is the heart of their breeding range, where they thrive in grassy habitats intermixed with wetlands.
Female and immature Cinnamon Teal are notoriously difficult to distinguish from Blue-winged Teal. Cinnamon Teal is always larger-billed than Blue-winged. They also have a warmer-toned face, whereas Blue-winged Teal has colder, gray tones and a bolder facial pattern. Green-winged Teal has a slimmer bill and more boxy head. Their overall body color on females is darker brown, with a darker stripe through the eye and darker cap. Green-winged Teal in any plumage lack the pale blue upperwing coverts of Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal and Northern Shoveler.
Simple Steps for Identifying Confusing Brown Ducks—Females and Otherwise, All About Birds blog, November 21, 2014.
What to Watch For: Duck Courtship [video], All About Birds blog, January 20, 2015.