The Other Teal

By Luke Matthews

Here in California when birders, biologists, or waterfowlers use the word ‘Teal’ they are almost always referring to the Green-winged Teal or Cinnamon Teal, as they are abundant here. However, there is another teal species on the rise in the Golden State, Blue-Winged Teal.

Blue-wings are a very abundant duck that primarily breed in the Prairie Pothole Region and spend their winters across much of the Southern States, Mexico and South America. They were previously uncommon in California. If you look at data sets such as eBird, from back in the 1980s, there were only a handful of these birds reported each year in the Sacramento Valley. Over time their population has increased and, in the past decade, Blue-winged Teal sightings have become quite common. In fact, over the last few years there have been many reports of relatively large flocks of these birds, between 20 to 100 individuals, in hotspots throughout the Valley.

While the drivers of this range expansion are not well understood, researchers in California have been capturing and marking some of these birds. This will allow them to track their migration routes and provide a greater understanding on this expansion. If Blue-winged Teal range expansion continues, we will likely see more and more of these birds every winter and it is possible that some of them might decide to staying in the Valley to nest and raise their young in the summer.

If you have never seen a Blue-winged Teal, you still have some time before these amazing birds leave us for the year. For the best chances of seeing them, grab a pair of binoculars and head to the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area where they are frequently seen. You might also catch a glimpse of them at Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area and more!

Luke Matthews is the Wildlife Programs Manager for the California Rice Commission