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Green-winged Teal


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The little Green-winged Teal is the smallest dabbling duck in North America. The natty male has a cinnamon-colored head with a gleaming green crescent that extends from the eye to the back of the head. In flight, both sexes flash deep-green wing patches (specula). Look for them on shallow ponds and in flooded fields, and listen for the male’s decidedly non-ducklike whistle. These common ducks breed along northern rivers; wintering flocks can number as many as 50,000.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
12.2–15.4 in
31–39 cm
20.5–23.2 in
52–59 cm
4.9–17.6 oz
140–500 g
Relative Size
A very small duck: much smaller than a Mallard; slightly larger than an Eared Grebe. About the size of a Pied-billed Grebe.
Other Names
  • Teal, Common Teal (British English)
  • Sarcell d'hiver (French)
  • Cerceta común (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The American and Eurasian forms of the Green-winged Teal were formerly considered different species. The Eurasian teal differ from the American by lacking the vertical white shoulder stripe and having a horizontal white stripe along the back instead. Eurasian teal show up casually each year along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
  • The Aleutian Islands of Alaska support their own race of Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca nimia. Unlike other Green-winged Teal populations, this race doesn’t migrate. In winter the birds move from summering sites on ponds and lakes to the islands’ beaches, where they forage in tide pools and on shallow-water reefs.
  • Green-winged Teals have closely spaced, comblike projections called lamellae around the inner edge of the bill. They use them to filter tiny invertebrates from the water, allowing the birds to capture smaller food items than other dabbling ducks.
  • Green-winged Teal sometimes switch wintering sites from year to year. One banding study found that individuals wintering in Texas one year went as far away as California in subsequent years. This lack of philopatry, or “faithfulness” to a particular site, may reflect the tendency of males that did not breed the year before to try to find mates among a different set of wintering females.
  • The oldest known Green-winged Teal was at least 20 years and 3 months, based on banding data. It was a female banded in 1941 in Oklahoma, and recovered by a hunter 1960 in Missouri.



Green-winged Teal breed mostly in isolated river deltas, forest wetlands, and mixed prairie regions across northern North America—they occur in the prairie pothole region, but they are not as restricted to it as many other dabbling ducks. Nesting sites include grasslands or sedge meadows that provide brush thickets of sedge or cattail for cover, and weedy or burned areas. They also favor beaver ponds in wooded areas, and nest along streams, potholes, lakes, and human-made wetlands. The race living on the Aleutian Islands nests near shallow, weedy ponds, saltwater shorelines, and beaches. Migrating birds stop over in shallow wetlands, coastal marshes, and flooded fields. Wintering birds typically flock to shallow wetlands, including coastal marshes and bayous, estuaries, the playa lakes of Texas’s southern high plains, riparian sloughs, and agricultural areas such as rice fields. The nonmigratory Aleutian race of Alaska winters along the islands’ beaches.



Green-winged Teal eat mainly aquatic invertebrates and seeds. They feed in shallow water, near shorelines, on mudflats, and in agricultural fields, taking advantage of whatever foods are most abundant. Migrating and wintering birds may feed at night or during the day. On the water they dabble along the surface where they pluck or strain seeds and invertebrates, and dip their head and neck or tip up to reach submerged food. They also probe mudflats for invertebrates and eat worms, seed shrimp, and copepods living just above the sediment. Depending on where they’re feeding, plant foods may include sedge fruit, seeds of pondweeds, grasses, smartweeds, sea purslane, bulrush, dwarf spikerush, swamp timothy, and agricultural crops including corn and rice. Animal prey includes midges, tadpoles, molluscs, and crustaceans. Chicks up to 2 weeks old eat mainly insect larvae.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
6–9 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
1.7–2 in
4.3–5 cm
Egg Width
1.3–1.4 in
3.2–3.5 cm
Incubation Period
20–23 days
Egg Description
Creamy white to pale olive-buff
Condition at Hatching
Precocial chicks hatch with eyes open, covered in yellow and dark olive-brown down.
Nest Description

The female uses her feet to scrape a nest bowl where she lays the first egg, then adds plant material such as grasses, sedges, and leaves from around the nest site, using a sideways motion of her bill to build up a nest measuring 6–7 inches across and 2–6 inches deep. After laying her last egg, the female adds her down feathers to the nest bowl before beginning to incubate.

Nest Placement


With the male following behind, the female chooses a well-concealed site on the ground, usually within about 200 yards of water. Nests are typically built in sedge meadows, grasslands, brush thickets, or in woods near a pond. The female chooses a spot that offers dense cover that may form a complete canopy over the nest.



Green-winged Teal are fast, agile, buoyant flyers. They can take off straight from the water without running across the surface. Though they are dabbling ducks that usually tip up to feed, they occasionally dive for food and to avoid predators. In winter Green-winged Teal gather in roosting flocks of up to 50,000 birds. Courtship starts in the fall and peaks in January and February; they choose new partners each year. Males try to secure a mate using an elaborate set of movements and vocal displays, with groups of up to 25 males courting females both on the water and in courtship flights. Although most pairs form on the wintering grounds, pair formation continues during spring migration and on the breeding grounds. The male defends its mate from copulation attempts by other males, then deserts the female once incubation is underway. A few hours after they hatch the chicks can swim, dive, walk, and forage for themselves, although the female continues to brood them at night and to protect them when the weather turns cold.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Green-winged Teal are numerous and their population has increased over recent decades, according to waterfowl surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They estimated the North American breeding population in 2015 was at least 4 million, almost double the long-term average. Green-winged Teal are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Most of the population breeds in Canada and Alaska, where relatively remote and inaccessible nesting areas buffer this species from habitat losses farther south caused by agricultural and urban development. Green-winged Teal are second only to Mallards in the number of ducks taken by hunters each year, with about 1.7 million shot per year in the U.S. Bag limits for ducks are changed annually based on population size estimates and harvest objectives, helping to safeguard these species against declines.


Range Map Help

Green-winged Teal Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings


Resident to medium-distance migrant. Migrates from northern North America via all major flyways—Pacific, Central, Mississipi, and Atlantic—to reach wintering grounds from coastal British Columbia to as far south as Central America. Aleutian subspecies does not migrate.

Find This Bird

A good time to look for Green-winged Teal across most of the continent is during spring and fall migration, when the birds land in shallow wetlands, sometimes foraging in little more than puddles in flooded agricultural fields. They occur with other species of dabbling ducks, but they’ll stand out if you pay attention to their size and shape. Even the fairly uniform brown females are distinctive by silhouette: small and compact, sitting high in the water, with a fairly small bill. A small brown duck near a group of larger dabblers is probably not a young Mallard—and it could be a female Green-winged Teal. Look for the buffy yellow stripe along the tail for extra confirmation.

You Might Also Like

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.

Confusing Domestic Ducks (and hybrids).



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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