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Teals are the fastest ducks in the world!
By Al Lowe
A lot of wildfowl migrate through this area of Canada, several species of geese and many ducks. The smallest ducks we have are the teals.
There are only two species of teal which would normally be found in Northern Ontario, the Blue-winged and the Green-winged. There are other teals in Canada and in the old world, but not here.
Green-winged Teals (Anas carolininsis) are the smallest ducks in Canada. A mature specimen weighs in at about 14 ounces, compared to a Mallard at about three and a half pounds.
The drake in breeding plumage is a very beautiful little bird, and his general appearance is grey with a cinnamon brown head. A prominent green eye patch and a white mark at the shoulder are the identifying marks. At any time of the year when the bird is in flight, the bright green speculum (lower wing area) with the absence of any blue, is characteristic.
The Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) is only an ounce or two heavier than its green-winged cousin. Again the male is a beautifully marked bird when in his spring finery. A slate grey head with a prominent eye patch, and a white patch near the tail are the marks to look for. In flight, the green speculum still shows, but this time the forewing is a clear light blue.
Don't look for all of these fine colours in the fall though. Like all ducks, the males go through a double molt, and right now are in their autumn drabs. The drakes, the ducks and this year's young birds all look very much alike. The trademarks are still the same in flight, though - bright green with no blue at all, or bright green with that very noticeable blue upper wing.
Teals are the fastest ducks in the world as well as the smallest. They can certainly fly at nearly 100 miles an hour, and have been clocked at nearly 130. They fly in good-sized flocks, sometimes in very tight formations. They can execute very tight turns and other formations as though they were remotely controlled. I am told that they are not easy to hit, but this habit of flying very close together gives you a chance to get more than one, if you get any at all.
Both of these teals breed from Alaska across to Newfoundland, and south to California and the Carolinas. They are not extremely prolific, having one brood annually, with about a dozen eggs each. As far as numbers are concerned, they are in no greater danger than most other waterfowl. Most of the reductions in numbers are due to reduced habitat, rather than from hunting.
Teals are supposed to be very good to eat - if they have been living on vegetable matter. But they can be awful if they have been eating the wrong kind of food. One large flock lived for quite a while on rotten fish thrown out by a B.C. canning factory. Hunter said that you could smell those birds at least a hundred yards away!