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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Understanding Waterfowl: The Blue-Winged Ducks

Northern shovelers and blue-winged and cinnamon teal are among the most closely related of North America's ducks
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  • photo by MichaelFurtman.com
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The blue-winged ducks also share several interesting courtship displays. These behaviors include "jump flights," in which competing males appear to leapfrog one another as they jockey for position near an unpaired female. Another frequently observed courtship behavior displayed by males of these species is "head pumping," a repetitive up-and-down movement.

As most waterfowlers know, blue-winged and cinnamon teal are among the first ducks to migrate south in late summer and the last to return north in spring. In addition, they migrate farther south than other North American dabbling ducks and the majority of both species winter in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. Northern shovelers are also among the first waterfowl to migrate in fall, usually just behind their blue-winged cousins and large numbers of shovelers winter south of the U.S. border.  

Despite the many similarities between the blue-winged ducks, these birds differ from one another in population size and geographic distribution. The breeding range of cinnamon teal is largely restricted to the western United States, where they inhabit marshes and alkaline lakes in the Intermountain West and California's Central Valley. Although locally abundant, their total population, which is thought to number about 300,000 birds, is among the smallest of North America's waterfowl. Given its small population size, limited distribution and early fall migration, cinnamon teal are, not surprisingly, among the most lightly harvested of this continent's ducks.

In contrast, blue-winged teal and northern shovelers are among the most abundant, widespread and frequently harvested of North America's waterfowl. In 2011, populations of both species reached record highs, with 8.9 million blue-winged teal and 4.6 million northern shovelers tallied in the traditional survey area. The majority of blue-winged teal and shovelers breed in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States and Canada. Large numbers of shovelers also breed on vast inland river deltas in Alaska, while blue-winged teal are highly opportunistic breeders that settle in significant numbers on the southern High Plains when wetland conditions are favorable and occasionally nest as far south as the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. 

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