Profiling the Small but Abundant Green-Wings
The green-winged teal (Anas crecca) is a small member of the dabbling duck species, smaller even than its cousin the blue-winged teal. Although they are fast flyers in general, they usually seem even faster because of their size. But they more than make up for their size in terms of abundance.
Description and Life History of the Green-Winged Teal
The green-winged teal is a pretty small duck in general, measuring only about 14 inches long and weighing less than one pound (NatureServe 2020). Both sexes have small bodies, short necks, and small heads, but the plumage of breeding drakes is very different from hens or eclipse drakes. Breeding drakes have a chestnut brown head with a sweeping, iridescent green stripe behind the eyes (All About Birds 2020). Their breasts have creamy pink feathers with light brown spots, while their back and sides are a finely mottled black and white. They also have a vertical white line on their side in front of the wing/shoulder area. While flying, males and females show a green speculum patch on an otherwise uniformly brown wing (All About Birds 2020). Likewise, the bill of both sexes is dark gray and the visually (even comically) short legs are dark or brownish gray (Ducks Unlimited 2020). Hens and nonbreeding drakes are more drab, with mottled brown and tan feathers over their bodies and a cream-colored tail (All About Birds 2020).
Hens choose the nesting site in the spring, which is usually located within 200 yards of water (All About Birds 2020). Generally, nests are built in dense sedge meadows, grasslands, or shrub thickets with a vegetated canopy above. Hens pull various plant materials together into a bowl and line the nest with downy feathers. Between 6 and 11 creamy or pale buff eggs are laid per clutch, and hens incubate them for 20 to 24 days (National Audubon Society 2020). Males typically abandon the hen shortly after incubation starts (NatureServe2020). The precocial chicks can feed themselves, swim, and even dive, but the hen often tends and protects them until they are fledged.
Being a dabbling duck, the green-winged teal feeds by floating on the surface and dipping its head underwater or tipping up in shallow water. They mostly eat aquatic plants and seeds (e.g., pondweeds, smartweeds, sedges, grasses, bulrushes, etc.), agricultural crops (e.g., corn, rice, etc.), mast (e.g., berries, grapes, acorns), and invertebrates (e.g., aquatic insects, worms, mollusks, crustaceans, tadpoles) (NatureServe 2020; All About Birds 2020). Green-winged teal, like some other duck species, have comb-like growths (i.e., lamellae) along the inner edge of their bills, which helps them to filter small invertebrates from the water as they paddle along the surface (All About Birds 2020).
Adult teal can easily dive underwater to escape most predators, but eggs and young are more vulnerable to predation. Mink, foxes, raccoons, and skunks are common predators of young or eggs.
Range and Habitat of the Green-Winged Teal
The green-winged teal breeds in the summer throughout the northern half of the U.S. and across most of Canada and Alaska. After molting in the late summer, their primary migration back south occurs from October to December (National Audubon Society 2020). During the winter, green-winged teal can be found across the southern half of the U.S. and throughout Mexico, but they occasionally make their way to Europe. Likewise, the Eurasian form of green-winged teal sometimes shows up along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the U.S. (All About Birds 2020).
Green-winged teal occupy freshwater habitats throughout the spring and summer, but will also utilize saltwater or brackish tidal flats and lagoons during the migration period or throughout the winter (NatureServe 2020). Freshwater habitats include ponds, prairie potholes, shallow marshes, streams/rivers, wooded areas adjacent to beaver ponds, lake shorelines, and small bays (All About Birds 2020). Wintering habitats may include coastal marshes, estuaries, or bayous, but the birds also make daily flights to flooded agricultural fields or shallow inland wetlands.
Conservation Issues for the Green-Winged Teal
While many waterfowl species have been in decline in recent decades, the North American green-winged teal population (estimated at 4 million birds) has increased over the same time. Their remote breeding grounds in northern North America have perhaps buffered the effects of human influence. Thus, the green-winged teal is listed as globally secure and of Least Concern by the IUCN Red List (NatureServe 2020). As far as hunting pressure, green-winged teal are second only to mallards in terms of ducks taken by hunters each year (i.e., about 1.7 million ducks shot per year) (All About Birds 2020).
Hunting Opportunities for the Green-Winged Teal
Teal hunting can be a really exciting time, especially if a decent flock comes through. When these small birds come buzzing over your decoys, it will surely get your heart pumping. Green-winged teal are numerous across the country during migration, so you have a good chance of encountering a few.
Equipment and Bag Limits
As with most duck hunting, you will need a shotgun, camouflage clothing, perhaps a blind, and some decoys. As far as duck retrieval or setting decoys, waders are helpful for shallow wetlands while a boat is a better option for deeper water. A 12-gauge shotgun is more than adequate for these small dabblers, and you could easily use a 20-gauge if you’re specifically targeting teal, but consider using an Improved Cylinder or Modified choke to improve your odds. The current daily bag limit for teal is six combined birds, but that limit may include green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, or cinnamon teal.
Green-Winged Teal Hunting Techniques
Green-winged teal prefer shallow water habitats in the fall, which is one of the first places you should scout. Large flooded agricultural fields, exposed mudflats, and shallow marshes are good options. Use your binoculars to scout these areas in the early mornings before your hunt, if that’s a possibility. At times when you notice a lot of teal gathered up in a certain area, you may be able to bust them out of there, toss some decoys out, and wait for ducks to come back. Green-wings can be forgiving like that.
These teal don’t require a ton of decoys to hunt effectively either – you can get by using about 12 to 18 decoys. Mix in some mallard decoys too while you’re at it since the drake decoys add some visual pop and the hen decoys look basically like a large teal hen or eclipse drake. Green-winged teal aren’t too picky when it comes to calling either. Try using a series of “peep” sounds on a teal whistle to get their attention, but once they see some of your decoys (especially if you use a couple spinners), you should be able to keep quiet and get ready.
Once they’re in range, though, actually hitting these fast little ducks can be challenging. Try to aim for ducks on the edge of a flock when possible. And experiment with your lead distance – because they are small, it might seem like they’re farther away and you might over-lead. Use these tips and see if you can put a few green-wings in the blind with you.
All About Birds. 2020. Green-Winged Teal. Accessed at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Green-winged_Teal/
Ducks Unlimited. 2020. Green-winged Teal. Accessed at: http://www.ducks.org/hunting/waterfowl-id/green-winged-teal
NatureServe. 2020. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life. Accessed at: http://explorer.natureserve.org
National Audubon Society. 2020. Guide to North American Birds. Accessed at: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/green-winged-teal
Last modified: July 19, 2022