Birds - Green-winged Teal
( Originally Published 1904 )
Length—14 inches. One of the smallest ducks.
Male—Head and neck rich chestnut, with a broad band of glossy green running from eyes to nape of neck; chin black; breast light pinkish-brown, spotted with black; upper back and sides finely marked with waving black and white lines; lower back dark grayish brown, underneath white. A white crescent in front of the bend of the wing; wings dull gray, tipped with buff and with patch or speculum half purplish black and half rich green. Head slightly subcrested. Bill black. Feet bluish gray.
Female—Less green on wings; no crest; throat white; head and neck streaked with light reddish brown on dark-brown ground; mottled brownish and buff above; lower parts whitish changing to buff on breast and lower neck, which are clouded with dusky spots.
Range—North America at large; nests in Montana, Minnesota, and other northern states, but chiefly north of the United States; winters from Virginia and Kansas, south to Cuba, Honduras, and Mexico.
Season—Spring and autumn migratory visitor north of Washington and Kansas; more abundant in the interior than on the coasts.
Next to the wood duck, this diminutive, exquisitely marked and colored kinsman is perhaps the handsomest member of its tribe; and, next to the merganser, it is said to be the most fleet of wing as it is of foot, unlike many of its waddling relations; but epicures declare its delicious flesh is the one characteristic worth expending superlatives upon. When the teal has fed on wild oats in the west, or on soaked rice in the fields of Georgia and Carolina, Audubon declared it is much superior to the glorified canvasback. Nothing about its rankness of flavor when it has gorged on putrid salmon lying in the creeks in the northwest, or the maggots they contain, ever creeps into the books; and yet this dainty little exquisite of the southern rice fields has a voracious appetite worthy of the mallard, around the salmon canneries of British Columbia, where the stench from a flock of teals passing overhead betrays a taste for high living, no other gourmand can approve. When clean fed, however, there is no better table-duck than a teal.
Among the earliest arrivals from the horde of water-fowl that follow the food supply from the far north into the United States every autumn, the green-wings are exceedingly abundant in the fresh water lakes and ponds of the interior, and less so on the salt water lagoons and creeks of the coast until frost locks up the celery, sedges, wild rice, berries, seeds of grasses, tadpoles, and the various kinds of insects on which they commonly feed. Then the teals go into winter quarters, and as they pass in small, densely packed companies overhead, the peculiar reed-like whistling of their swift wings may be plainly heard. Old sportsmen tell of clouds of ducks, numbering countless thousands, but they best know why such flights are gone forever from the United States.
The selfish, dandified drakes, that have spent their summer putting on an extra suit of handsome feathers and living an idle life of pleasure while their mates attended to all the nursery duties, leave them to find their way south as best they may, while they pursue a separate course. In the spring the teals are, perhaps, the easiest ducks to decoy. To watch the gallantries and antics of the drake in the spring, when he proudly swims round and round his coy little sweetheart, uttering his soft whistle of endearment, no one would accuse him of total indifference to her later. Happily, she is self reliant, dutiful to her young, courageous, resourceful. As a brood may consist of from six to sixteen ducklings, the mother does not lack company during the autumn migration, though she must often pay heavy toll to the gunners in every state she passes through. Were she not among the most prolific of birds, doubtless the species would be extinct to-day. Happily this duck is a mark for experts only; for, with a spring from the water, it is at once launched in the air on a flight so rapid that few sportsmen reckon it correctly in taking aim. When wounded, the teal plunges below the water, or when pursued by a hawk; but it rarely, if ever, dives for food, the "tipping-up " process of securing roots of water plants in shallow waters answering the purpose. Occasionally one sees a flock of teals sunning themselves on sandy flats and bogs, preening their feathers, or dozing in the heat of noon; then the hunter picks them off by the dozen at a time; but ordinarily these birds keep well screened in the grasses at the edges of the waters until twilight. While, like most other ducks, they are particularly active toward night and at dawn, they are not so shy as many. Farmers often see them picking up corn thrown about the barnyard; and Mr. Arnold tells in the "Nidologist" of finding nests of the green-winged teals built in tufts of grass on the sun baked banks along the railroad tracks in Manitoba, where the workmen constantly passed the brooding females intent only on keeping warm their large nestful of cream-white eggs. Nests have been found elsewhere, quite a distance from water, which would seem scarcely intelligent were not the teals very good walkers from the first, and less dependent than others on the food water supplies. In the west one some-times surprises a brood and its devoted little mother poking about in the undergrowth for acorns, or for grapes, corn, wheat, and oats that lie about the cultivated lands at harvest time. Green-wings are early nesters, and have full fledged young in July, when the blue-wings and cinnamon teal are still sitting.