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Blue-winged Teal Life History


MarshesBlue-winged Teal nest among grasses or herbaceous vegetation and forage in summer in shallow ponds or pond-marsh mixes. They are flightless during their late summer molt, and they spend this time in prairie potholes or large marshes. Migrants use marshes, vegetated wetlands around lakes, and rice fields, and typically stop in freshwater or brackish areas rather than saltwater. On their U.S. wintering grounds they live in fresh or brackish vegetated wetlands with lots of decaying organic matter. South of the U.S., they may use different habitats including estuaries and mangroves. Back to top


OmnivoreBlue-winged Teal eat aquatic insects such as midge larvae, crustaceans, clams, and snails as well as vegetation and grains. Laying females eat mostly protein-rich animal matter. In winter, seeds such as rice, millet, water lilies are the predominant foods. Back to top


Nest Placement

GroundFemales decide where to nest by flying over possible areas, landing in an opening, and then walking into grassy cover. She may take several days to decide on the site. Males wait nearby. Nests are typically at least a foot above the nearest water and covered by vegetation.

Nest Description

The female builds the nest by scraping with her feet to make a circular depression. She then lines it with dried grasses picked from around the nest, adding down and breast feathers. Vegetation conceals most nests on all sides and from above. The finished nest is about 8 inches across, with an inside diameter of about 6 inches and 2 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:6-14 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.5-2.0 in (3.8-5.2 cm)
Egg Width:1.1-1.5 in (2.9-3.7 cm)
Incubation Period:19-29 days
Nestling Period:40 days
Egg Description:Creamy white.
Condition at Hatching:Covered in yellow down with a gray-brown eye stripe. Able to leave nest soon after hatching.
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DabblerBlue-winged Teal feed by dabbling—dipping their bill into the water, submerging their entire head, or tipping up to reach for prey or vegetation deeper underwater. They dive rarely. Like many ducks, Blue-winged Teal have a range of exaggerated motions that they use as displays. Often male will make these displays while oriented to the side of the female he is courting. They include pumping the head up and down, dipping the head under water rapidly, and tipping up or dabbling in the water with body feathers raised. Females may respond by "inciting": lowering her head, pointing her bill at the male, and then raising her head. Pair bonds typically dissolve during incubation, and adults form new pair bonds with different mates in the winter or spring. Many males court the same female at once until she chooses a mate. Forced copulations by males with females other than their mate—a common occurrence in many duck species—is comparatively rare in Blue-winged Teal.Back to top


Low Concern

Blue-winged Teal are the second most abundant duck in North America, behind the Mallard. Their populations remained stable between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population at 7.8 million and rates them 7 out of 20 on the Conservation Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. By funding farmers to leave some of their fields fallow, the USDA Conservation Reserve Program has helped increase grassland nesting habitat by about 1.8 million acres in this species' prairie pothole breeding range. In the past decade, however, enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program has decreased, resulting in less suitable nesting habitat for Blue-winged Teal. Blue-winged Teal are early migrants, so they're gone from much of the U.S. before duck-hunting season begins in many states. Still, hunters shot approximately 830,000 to 1.4 million Blue-winged Teal in the 2019/2020 hunting seasons in the U.S. (this hunting pressure is carefully managed to maintain population goals). Blue-winged Teal, like other ducks, are vulnerable to loss or degradation of wetlands, pesticide contamination (particularly on their wintering grounds in countries where DDT is still legal), and consumption of lead shot.

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Bellrose, F. C. (1976). Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America. Second edition. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Raftovich, R. V., K. K. Fleming, S. C. Chandler, and C. M. Cain (2021). Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2019–20 and 2020-21 hunting seasons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, MD, USA.

Rohwer, Frank C., William P. Johnson and Elizabeth R. Loos. (2002). Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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