Definition of a Teal Duck
(noun) A teal is a type of small freshwater dabbling duck. There are numerous species of teal, but they all share similar traits that set them apart from the whole duck family overall, such as their size, habitat preferences, body proportions, feeding behavior, and coloration. Birders can use these clues when they see unknown ducks to narrow down identification possibilities to focus on teal.
(Rhymes with heel, keel, reel, meal, and kneel)
About Teal Ducks
Teal are dabbling ducks that are found primarily in shallow freshwater areas. Their preferred habitats include marshes, ponds, rivers, swamps, flooded agricultural fields, and similar riparian areas with suitable vegetation and shelter. Some variety of teal are found on every continent except Antarctica.
These are smaller, petite ducks and are characterized by short necks and short tails. Males and females look significantly different, and males have brightly marked, distinctive plumage that often includes unusual color swathes or patches on the head, wings, or face. In the case of wing coloration, the unexpected shades may be difficult to see when the bird's wings are folded, but colorful speculums can be very obvious in flight. Females are more camouflaged with muted, earth tone colors and mottled patterns, which serves as protection while they are nesting or caring for young ducklings.
Teal typically feed on the surface of the water, often wiggling or nibbling their flat bills along as they swim slowly in order to grab floating plant material or catch aquatic insects. Unlike other dabbling ducks, teal prefer to feed at the surface instead of tipping up to forage beneath the water. Generally herbivorous, teal eat primarily aquatic vegetation, seeds, and grain, though they may eat some insects or mollusks as well, particularly during the nesting season when ducklings require more protein for proper growth.
These can be gregarious ducks and often join mixed flocks with multiple teal species and other dabbling ducks such as mallards, widgeons, and northern shovelers, particularly in winter. In flight, these birds often stay in a tight group and may wheel and change direction in unison.
Teal as Game Birds and in Captivity
Teal are regularly hunted, and waterfowl hunting can be an important part of wildlife population management programs. By hunting teal, overpopulation problems are minimized, and the stronger, smarter, more agile ducks survive to reproduce. The exact length of the hunting season, how many teal an individual hunter may harvest, and where the birds may be legally hunted will vary depending on the strength of local teal populations. These hunting restrictions are often adjusted each year based on breeding population changes from season to season, and in some years the birds may not be legal to hunt at all.
Some teal are also kept as domestic waterfowl, either in private collections or agricultural operations. These teal may be harvested for food or hunting, or may be displayed as guests in a zoo, aviary, park, or botanical garden. Captive teal will occasionally escape to provide unexpected sightings in areas far from the species' typical range.
Teal Duck Species
All teal are found in the scientific genus Anas and belong to the family Anatidae with other ducks, geese, and swans. There are more than 20 species of teal throughout the world, though it is possible that similar dabbling duck species may be reclassified or different teal could be split or lumped into additional species in the future, therefore changing the number of unique teal species. In many areas where only one teal species predominates, the birds may simply be referred to as teal rather than by their full names. That use of common names can be confusing to birders who have more specific listing preferences, however, or who may travel to different areas and see different species of teal.
Different teal ducks include:
- Andaman Teal (Anas albogularis)
- Andean Teal (Anas andium)
- Auckland Teal (Anas aucklandica)
- Baikal Teal (Sibirionetta formosa)
- Blue-Winged Teal (Spatula discors)
- Brazilian Teal (Amazonetta brasiliensis)
- Brown Teal (Anas chlorotis)
- Campbell Teal (Anas nesiotis)
- Cape Teal (Anas capensis)
- Chestnut Teal (Anas castanea)
- Cinnamon Teal (Spatula cyanoptera)
- Common Teal (Anas crecca)
- Grey Teal (Anas gracilis)
- Hottentot Teal (Spatula hottentota)
- Madagascar Teal (Anas bernieri)
- Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris)
- Puna Teal (Spatula puna)
- Red-Billed Teal (Anas erythrorhyncha)
- Ringed Teal (Callonetta leucophrys)
- Salvadori's Teal (Salvadorina waigiuensis)
- Silver Teal (Spatula versicolor)
- Sunda Teal (Anas gibberifrons)
- Yellow-billed Teal (Anas flavirostris)
Note: Please see the complete A-Z duck species list for additional dabbling ducks, as well as any vulnerable, threatened, or endangered designations for teal species.
Also Known As