A Sight to Behold - Iowa Wildlife Federation

A Sight to Behold

Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.

Fast, nervous, and colorful, the tiny green-winged teal is one of my favorite spring migrants. Green-wings, more so than most waterfowl, utilize a wide variety of nesting habitats from small prairie potholes to remote arctic tundras and just about every wet spot in between.  But if you had to pick a breeding stronghold, some of the teal’s greatest nesting densities occur along the muskeg lakes and ponds of Canada’s coniferous parklands.

Green-wing drake — When viewed at close range, the green-winged teal is a sight to behold; a literal work of art.

On the flip side, green-wings also have one of the largest wintering ranges of any duck, spending the cold weather months scattered from Alaska to Mexico, Central and even Northern South America.  Some of the most impressive wintering concentrations assemble on the flooded rice fields of Texas and Louisiana where individual flocks my reach 40,000 to 50,000 birds.

Spring Migrants – A northbound flock of green-winged pause to rest and refuel on an Iowa wetland.

In Iowa, the first green-wing flocks appear soon after spring breakup as northbound migrants pause to rest and refuel on shallow potholes and cattail marshlands.  Always on edge and ready to take wing at the drop of a hat, these nervous little fowl are a challenge to photograph.  One of my favorite method of observation is to select a small marsh were I toss out a bag of teal decoys and construct a blind from natural vegetation a few yards away.  Green-wings are sociable creatures and it usually doesn’t take long before birds are buzzing the decoys or splashing down nearby.

Green-wings in flight – Speedy in flight, the green-winged teal is one of America’s most abundant and popular gamebirds

When viewed at close range, the green-winged teal is a sight to behold.  The drakes’ flanks are arrayed in an intricately detailed pattern of light gray herringbone.  The head is colored deep cinnamon accented by a bold green eye stripe that extends down the neck.  Spring green-wings are extremely vocal.  The hens have a distinctively cheery series of quacks, while the drakes emit a high pitched, bell-like whistle that cannot be mistaken for any other sound.

Green-wing pair

While some waterfowl struggle to maintain or increase their populations, green-winged teal have shown a near steady increase in numbers since the early 1960s.  Speedy in flight and somewhere beyond delicious when prepared for the table, green-wings remain one of our most abundant and popular gamebirds.

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