Saturday, April 14, 2007

Blue winged teal

After another round of meetings in the Ozarks, I arrive home to reports of flocks of blue winged teal in the bayou. They're the latest duck to migrate northward in the spring and the first to head south in the fall. Their presence reminds me that the migration doesn't stop just because I'm not at the Conservation Area chalking up species on my list.

Blue winged teal belong to a group of ducks known as "dabblers." Birds in this group generally feed on plant matter and aquatic invertebrates by dabbling on the water's surface; they often feed on land as well. With mallards weighing in as the most abundant duck in North America, blue winged teal come in at second place. They breed in the Great Plains of Kansas to Canada, creating nests on the ground which are lined with grasses and down. Nests are usually surrounded by tall emergent wetland grasses. Drought in the prairie states and predation on the eggs by skunks can negatively impact populations.

These are remarkably small birds. On average, blue winged teal are 11 inches long. By comparison, mallards average 22 inches long. Their name is derived from the powder blue wing patch seen during flight. Plumages of female and immature birds resemble the less common cinnamon teal and green winged teal, both of whom I have seen scores of in south Louisiana, mostly lifeless birds shot by my father at Lacassine. The long white stripe down the face of the blue winged teal is striking, as is the bird's size.

The two flocks (12 birds each) will likely hang around the bayou for a few weeks, and then they'll head northward to their breeding grounds. They're only transients here in southeast Missouri. The mergansers have moved northward already and I hear the black ducks are gone, too. However, we bought a big bag of corn for all the mallards who will be spending summer with us on the bayou.

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