Blue-winged teals are long-distance migrants, breeding across Canada and the northern U.S. and spending winters as far south as Brazil and Peru. One of North America’s smallest dabbling ducks, female blue-winged teals are similar in plumage to other small, brown waterfowl species, including cinnamon teals and green-winged teals.
To learn more about key identifying markings and behavior traits of female blue-winged teals, please read on.
For most of the year, female blue-winged teals are not easily confused with their male counterparts. Females are mostly brown, with marbled patterning on their bodies and lack the gray-blue heads and white facial crescent of males.
There are many differences in behavior between the sexes, with females taking the lead role in nest site selection, incubation, and the raising of young, as during incubation, males have already departed for their late summer molting grounds.
Our complete guide to female blue-winged teals highlights key differences in behavior and appearance between males and females of the species.
After reading the information below, you should be able to confidently ID female blue-winged teals when spotted alongside similar birds. So please scroll on to learn what to look out for.
Close up of a female Blue-winged Teal in flight
During much of the year, it’s easy to tell the difference between female and male blue-winged teals. Males (drakes) have a grayish-blue-violet head, with a wide white band running vertically alongside their bill. Females (hens), in comparison, are much duller in appearance, with a gray-brown head, and mottled brown bodies.
Both drakes and hens have a large pale blue patch on their forewings, but in males, it is a more vibrant color and is bordered by a white band.
Male blue-winged teals have a white patch on their flanks, and a black tail, while females are mid-brown all over, with speckled markings on their breasts, flanks and backs. Both male and female blue-winged teals have orange-yellow legs and dark bills, which are longer in males than females.
When males undergo their post-breeding molt, they temporarily become similar in appearance to females, losing their distinctive blue-gray head and prominent white facial band.
Female Blue-winged Teal
Male Blue-winged Teal
Female blue-winged teals are smallish dabbling ducks, with a marbled brown plumage, which is marked with distinct patterning on their sides. Their heads are paler than their bodies: mainly gray-brown, marked with a distinctive darker horizontal line from the eye, and with a white ring surrounding their eye. At the base of their bill is a small patch of white feathers.
In flight, a large dullish sky-blue patch can be seen on their upper forewings, while their underwings are white. Like males, female blue-winged teals have orange-yellow legs and feet, and a dark gray-black bill.
Female Blue-winged Teal coming in to land on the water
Blue-winged teals are among the smallest species of dabbling ducks, with females slightly smaller and lighter than males.
No breakdown is given for measurements of individual sexes, but females will typically be at the lower end of the species size range for weight (280 g to 499 g/0.6 lb to 1.1 lb), length (36 cm to 41 cm/14 in to 16 in) and wingspan (56 cm to 62 cm/22 in to 24 in).
Incubating females usually lose a significant amount of weight while brooding their eggs.
Drake, or male Blue-winged Teal (left), and Hen, or female Blue-winged Teal pair
At the start of the breeding season, lone female blue-winged teals are pursued by groups of males seeking a mate. Males chase females, performing courtship rituals in flight and then on water.
Females may initiate mating, but may also be pursued by an unpaired male, and will try to escape any such attempt by diving deep underwater.
Migratory behavior is another key area in which female and male blue-winged teals show clear differences. Males will typically head to their wintering grounds from mid-August, with females following later with or slightly ahead of immature birds.
Male blue-winged teals depart from breeding grounds to molt a short while after females begin incubating. Large groups of males and nonbreeding females gather on marshlands to seek shelter while they are undergoing their molt and are unable to fly. In contrast, breeding females molt at or near their nest site.
Blue-winged Teal pair by the edge of the water
Both male and female blue-winged teals are vocal, with each sex having its own unique repertoire of calls. Males make a whistling sound, while females call using a range of different nasal quacks.
At the outset of the breeding season, females give a short series of single quacks to advertise their availability to potential mates.
Once paired, females that are pursued by another male make a loud quacking sound followed by a warning “gaek” call. Quacking is also used as a contact call between females and their ducklings.
A pair of Blue-winged Teals in non-breeding plumage - female left, male on the right
Nest selection is led by female blue-winged teals, who survey potential grassland nest sites from the air, followed in flight by the male. Once the female has settled on a final site, she alone attends to begin preparing the nest, forming a shallow scrape lined with dried grass found at the site.
Laying begins shortly after nest completion, and again, females are unaccompanied both during laying and incubation. In the initial stages, males remain fairly nearby and defend the nest site from a distance.
Females take short breaks from incubation to feed, and during these breaks, they reunite on the water with their mate. However, these pair bonds are no longer evident around three weeks after incubation starts, leaving the female to defend her eggs and nest site alone, as well as to protect young ducklings once they have hatched.
Between 21 and 40 days after eggs are laid, they hatch, and within 24 hours they are led to the water by the female, and do not return to the nest site. By this time, the male is no longer present, and females alone take care of protecting the vulnerable young ducklings until they are fully independent. Nighttime brooding of young continues on elevated waterside land by the female for a further two weeks after hatching.
Blue-winged teals are omnivores, foraging for seeds, aquatic plants, algae and duckweeds as well as invertebrates, aquatic snails, and crustaceans. During the nesting period, the diet of breeding females is primarily animal-based.
Female Blue-winged Teal with her chicks (ducklings)
Female blue-winged teals have a giveaway blue wing patch which helps to distinguish them from similar species.
Female blue-winged teals are similar in appearance to cinnamon teals, sharing the same all-over light brown plumage. However, female cinnamon teals are a slightly warmer shade of brown. Cinnamon teals have a less-pronounced pale markings beside their bill, in comparison to the distinct white loral patches seen on female blue-winged teals.
Green-winged teals are, from a distance, another similar species to the blue-winged teal. On closer inspection, their plumage is a darker brown, and they lack the faint white eye ring and facial spot seen in female blue-winged teals and are marginally smaller in size.
A pair of Blue-winged Teals stood on a rock together
Female blue-winged teals could feasibly raise young alone, as they nest, incubate, and accompany young when they first head out onto water without support from the male. Incubating females leave their unhatched eggs temporarily to feed, and during this time their eggs remain unattended rather than the male taking over incubation.
As their name suggests, female blue-winged teals have prominent blue patches on the upper side of their wings. Apart from this single flash of color, they are largely shades of pale brown, marbled with lighter patterned markings. Their heads are grayish brown, with whitish feathers around the base of their bills.
Female blue-winged teals do call, and make distinct sounds during the breeding and nonbreeding seasons. Their calls can easily be told apart from vocalizations made by males of the species.
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