Birds - Blue-winged Teal
( Originally Published 1904 )
Called also: WHITE-FACED TEAL; SUMMER TEAL
Length—15 to 16 inches.
Male—Head and neck deep gray or lead color with purplish reflections; black on top; a broad white crescent bordered by black in front of head; breast and underneath pale reddish buff, spotted with dusky gray on the former and barred on the flanks. Back reddish brown, marked with black and buff crescents, more greenish near the tail. Shoulders dull sky blue; wing patch green bordered with white. Bill grayish black. Feet yellowish with dusky webs.
Female—Dusky brown marked with buff, with an indistinct white patch on chin; sides of the head and neck whitish, finely marked with black spots except on throat; breast and underneath paler than male in winter; wings similar but with less white. In summer plumage males and females closely resemble each other.
Range—North America from Alaska and the British fur countries to Lower California, the West Indies, and South America; nests from Kansas northward; winters from Virginia and the lower Mississippi Valley southward. Most abundant east of the Rocky Mountains.
Season—More common in the autumn migrations, August, September, and October, along the Atlantic coast states than in the spring, and always more plentiful in the Mississippi region than near salt water.
Similar in most of its habits to the green-winged teal, the blue-winged species appears a trifle less hardy, and is therefore, perhaps, the very first duck to come into the United States in the early autumn and to hurry southward when the first frost pinches. Tropical winters suit it perfectly, but many birds re-main in our southern states until spring. Here they forget family traditions of shyness, when the sun shines brightly, and sit crowded together basking in its rays on the mud flats and shallow lagoons, delighting in the tropical warmth. It is when they are enjoying such a sun bath that the pot hunter, who has stolen silently upon them, discharges an ounce of shot in their midst, and bags more ducks at a time than one who knows how scarce this fine game bird is, where once it was exceedingly abundant, cares to contemplate. The old "figure four" traps, to which ducks are decoyed with rice, still find favor with the market hunter, who is looking for large returns for his efforts, rather than for sport. Decoys are all but useless in autumn when the drakes show no attention to even their mates.
Formerly these teals were very common indeed in New England, the middle Atlantic and the middle states, whereas for many seasons past the same old story is heard there from the sports-men: "There is a very poor flight this year." It is likely to grow poorer and poorer in future unless the ducks are given better protection. We must now go to the inaccessible sloughs, grown with wild rice, in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and west-ward, or to the lagoons of the lower Mississippi Valley to find the two commoner species of teals in abundance. In such luxuriant feeding-grounds, where they associate closely, long, wedge-shaped strings of ducks rise from the sedges at any slight alarm, and shoot through the air overhead on whistling wings. We are accustomed to seeing small, densely massed flocks in the east when the birds are migrating southward. The blue-winged teals, after their small size is noted, can always be distinguished by the white crescent between the bill and eyes, conspicuous at a good distance. " When they alight, they drop down suddenly among the reeds in the manner of the snipe or woodcock," says Nuttall, instead of hovering suspiciously over the spot for awhile, like the mallards. They are silent birds, and, though not always actually so, their Iow, feeble quack, rapidly repeated, is so diminutive that they get little credit for a vocal performance.