The smallest of North American ducks, the green-winged teal is also one of the hardiest. It often stays in the North until the last water freezes. It is the third-most common breeding dabbling duck in the Arctic, behind the pintail and wigeon.
Hunters favor the green-winged teal, too. It’s the second most commonly taken bird in hunter’s bag behind the mallard.
Drakes in breeding plumage have a distinctive chestnut red head with a large iridescent green patch that extends from each eye and joins at the back of the neck. Drakes have black bills. Hens have grey bills with black specks. Their legs are gray. The name comes from the metallic-green speculum found in both sexes, giving way to black toward the wing tip.
In flight, the green-winged teal’s bright white belly usually differentiates it from the mottled-brown belly of the blue-winged teal.
Its wing beat is almost as fast as that of diving ducks. The green-winged teal is a swift flier. It often travels in larger flocks than other teal – frequently with as many as 50 to 100 per group.
The green-winged teal nests from the Aleutian Islands east through Alaska, the Mackenzie River Delta, and the northern portions of all Canadian provinces. It also breeds south to central California; east through the intermountain region and central states such as Nebraska and the Great Lakes states of Minnesota and Wisconsin; and eastward to the Canadian Maritime Provinces.
Because so many breed in the wetlands of the Boreal Forest, this species hasn’t suffered the attrition resulting from habitat loss experienced by species more confined to the prairies of Canada.
Green-winged teal migrate slowly in both spring and fall. Although a few green-wings will arrive as early as September on their southerly wintering areas, most do not arrive on the wintering grounds until late November. More than any other duck, it seeks food on mudflats when available.
In the spring, they arrive in their more southerly breeding areas in mid-April or early May. The most northerly nesting areas may not see the arrival of green-winged teal until almost the third week of May.
Like all species, the numbers of green-winged teal on the breeding grounds fluctuate from year to year, a reflection of the productivity and mortality of the previous season.
The 2007 breeding estimated of 2.9 million green-winged teal is similar to last year, 55 percent above the long-term average and the second highest total on record.