Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Blue-winged teal © Dan Pancamo

Blue–winged teal are an early migrating bird.
© Dan Pancamo

August 2014

Try your hand at teal hunting

New season sparks reminder to brush up on duck identification.


Natasha Kassulke


Waterfowl hunters have a new opportunity this fall. In June, the state Natural Resources Board approved a teal–only duck hunting season for Sept. 1 to 7 with a six–bird daily bag limit. Shooting hours on opening day begin at 9 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Shooting hours from Sept. 2 through Sept. 7 begin at sunrise and close at 7 p.m.

Hunters may harvest only blue–winged and green–winged teal. Hunters also need the same authorizations required for the regular duck season, a state and federal waterfowl stamp, Harvest Inventory Program (HIP) certification and small game license or another license that provides the same privilege.

This year launches a three–year experimental season. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) offered Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa early teal seasons this fall. Those are the only four states in the 14–state Mississippi Flyway that did not have early teal seasons previously. The continental blue–winged teal population has been at record highs recently at around 8 million to 9 million birds, helping to prompt the hunt. Wisconsin must comply with federal regulations in establishing migratory bird hunting seasons and conditions. Wisconsin waterfowl hunters have been asking Wisconsin DNR staff to request a teal season from the USFWS for many years. Blue–winged teal nest in Wisconsin and adjacent states, but as early migrants, often leave Wisconsin before the regular duck season.

Wisconsin was not included in the hunt previously since it is a "production" state, meaning that it is a major breeding area for mallards and other ducks. The Department of Natural Resources is asking hunters to review their waterfowl identification before venturing out for teal because some ducks may lack the more colorful distinguishing plumage in early September as they do later in the fall. Hunters can do that by visiting the DNR's waterfowl web page and brushing up on their duck identification skills or by making field visits and familiarizing themselves with how the ducks will appear in early fall.

QUIZ

Visit the DNR website at Waterfowl hunting to find a guide to waterfowl identification. Then take a quiz to see how good you are.

Kent Van Horn, DNR waterfowl ecologist, says that it is very important to understand that this is an experimental season and that the results of the experiment will determine if a state is granted an operational early teal season.

The USFWS requires states to monitor hunter behavior in the field to observe whether they shoot at non–teal ducks during the teal–only season. If the number of attempts to shoot non–teal ducks is too high, then Wisconsin will fail the experimental season.

Teal pairs and small groups of this small dabbling duck inhabit shallow ponds and wetlands across much of North America.

In contrast to the two small teal species (about 14 – 16 inches long) that will be legal game during this special season, two other larger duck species will also be abundant in the state in early September.

The mallard is considerably larger, nearly twice the length and twice as heavy, making them appear slower and less maneuverable in flight. Hen mallards are mottled light brown in color and have an orange bill with an iridescent blue wing patch, whereas both blue–and green–winged teal have darker colored bills and have iridescent green wing patches.

In the early fall, drake mallards may not be in full plumage yet. Instead, they will have an eclipse plumage where they appear somewhat like a hen until their green head fills in.

The other duck that will be around during this season is the wood duck, which is slightly larger in both length and weight than teal. In flight, wood ducks are also highly maneuverable, however they appear blocky and are very vocal, producing a high pitch whistle. At this time of the year only the hen wood duck would appear similar, however they are a drab dark brown/grayish color with a prominent white ring around their eye.

As always, Van Horn encourages duck hunters to get out before opening day to scout the marshes, brush up on their identification skills and find the best hunting locations.

MAKING THE ID

Blue–winged teal

Their small size and twisting, turning flight gives the illusion of great speed. The small, compact flocks commonly fly low over the marshes, and often take the hunter by surprise. They are more vocal than most ducks — their high–pitched peeping and nasal quacking is commonly heard in spring and to a lesser extent in fall. These teal are among the first ducks to migrate each fall and one of the last in the spring.

Male blue–winged teal have a slate gray head and neck, a black–edged white crescent in front of the eyes and a blackish crown. The breast and sides are tan with dark brown speckles and there is a white spot on the side of the rump. Most of the upper wing coverts are blue–gray, the secondaries form an iridescent green patch and the underwing is whitish. The bill is black and the legs and feet are yellowish to orange. Female blue–winged teal have a brownish–gray head with a darker crown and eye stripe. The breast and sides are brown, the upper parts are olive brown, and the upper wing coverts are bluish, but less vibrant than the drake. The bill is gray–black and the legs and feet are dull yellow–brown.

Green–winged teal

These birds are quite hardy and are the smallest and one of the most common ducks. Their tiny size gives the impression of great speed, but mallards can fly faster. Their flight is often low and erratic, with the entire flock twisting and turning as one unit.

Male green–winged teal have a chestnut head with an iridescent green to purple patch extending from the eyes to the nape of the neck. The chest is pinkish–brown with black speckles, and the back, sides and flanks are vermiculated gray, separated from the chest by a white bar. The wing coverts are brownish–gray with a green wing patch. The bill is dark slate and the legs and feet are dark gray. Males have a distinctive high–pitched "preep–preep." Female green–winged teal are mottled brown with a dark brown line that extends from the bill through the eye. The bill is dark gray and the legs and feet are olive–gray to brownish–gray. Females are relatively silent but have a sharp, high "quack" when disturbed.

Excerpted from "Ducks at a Distance" by Bob Hines, Department of the Interior/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ducks Unlimited

Natasha Kassulke is editor-in-chief of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.