Fast and erratic in flight, the Teal is the United Kingdom’s smallest wildfowl species. Despite occurring year-round in low numbers, birdwatchers are most likely to spot these tiny ducks in the winter when large numbers arrive from abroad.
Teal are small dabbling ducks with small bills and short necks. They show distinct plumage differences between the sexes, but both have bright green speculums. Males are adorned with chestnut head plumage, complete with a broad metallic emerald stripe from the eye to the nape. The breast and front of the neck are speckled, while the flanks and rest of the neck are finely vermiculated.
Female Teals are less distinctive than males, with rather generic female duck plumage. They are heavily marked in grey and brown and darkest on the back and crown. A dark stripe runs horizontally through each eye, and the bill is black. Their most distinctive features are the bright green speculums on each wing and a cream stripe on either side of the tail.
Juvenile Teal look very similar to adult females but have spotted underparts.
The Teal’s small size helps to differentiate it from other UK wildfowl, although females and immature birds have similar plumage to other female ducks, particularly the similar-sized Garganey.
Female (left) and Male (right) Eurasian Teals resting on the bank
Eurasian Teal are the smallest waterfowl species in the United Kingdom, about the same weight as a Moorhen.
Teal have a body length of 34 to 38 centimetres.
They weigh 240 to 400 grams. Males (275 - 400g) are generally heavier than females (245 - 360g).
These fast-flying and manoeuvrable ducks have a wingspan of 58 to 64 centimetres.
Eurasian Teal stretching
Male Teals produce a far-carrying two-syllabled whistle (‘prrip-prrip’ / ‘krrik krrik’) during courtship. Females make a soft, high-pitched quacking call during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons.
Eurasian Teal quacking
Teal have a varied diet, including invertebrates, seeds, and aquatic vegetation. They find most of their food at the water’s surface or to a depth of about 25 centimetres. These dabbling ducks may catch small flying insects above the water, dip their head under the water, or upend, but rarely dive.
Teal ducklings feed primarily on insects and other invertebrates (up to 90%) for their first two weeks. They find most of their food at or above the water’s surface. Their mother will guide them to suitable feeding areas, but the precocial young birds must feed themselves.
Eurasian Teal feeding in shallow waters
Teal inhabit a variety of fresh and brackish water environments. They prefer nutrient-poor habitats in the United Kingdom but can be found in many estuaries, lakes, ponds, quarries, and ditches.
The Eurasian Teal has an extensive distribution in the Old World. They occur across most of Europe, Asia, and parts of North Africa. The closely related Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis) is widespread in North America and was previously considered a subspecies of our Eurasian birds.
Teal are highly aquatic birds that spend most of their time on and around the water. They often forage on mudflats despite being rather ungainly on foot. These birds also leave the water to nest, although most nests are within a stone’s through of the bank.
Eurasian Teal in natural habitat near to the water
Teal are rare breeding birds in the United Kingdom with a population of about 4,000 pairs. However, they are far more numerous in the winter when over 400,000 individuals arrive from Iceland, Continental Europe, and Russia.
Look out for Teal in suitable habitats throughout the UK, particularly in the winter non-breeding season between October and February. They are far more localised in the summer when they breed on upland bogs and moors in Northern Britain.
Eurasian Teal coming in to land
Teal can live at least 25 years in the wild, although their average life expectancy is closer to three years.
Teal are protected in the United Kingdom by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Teal are not endangered. They are an amber-listed species in the UK and globally classified as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List.
Eurasian Teal by the edge of a lake
Teals nest on the ground, usually under thick cover, where they are well hidden from predators. They nest close to the water, usually within 50 meters in the United Kingdom. The female builds the nest alone, first by excavating a scrape and then lining it with dry leaves and vegetation. Once all her eggs are laid, the female Teal will complete the nest with a lining of her own down feathers.
Teal nest from mid-April to June in the UK. They lay a single egg each day and then incubate the clutch for approximately three weeks. The downy ducklings are ready to leave the nest on their first day but fledge after about a month.
Teal are relatively rare but regular nesters in Northern Britain, with an estimated breeding population of 2,700 to 4,750 pairs. The breeding population has increased since the 1980s despite a slight reduction in their range.
Teal usually lay six to nine (average 8) cream white to olive buff eggs, each measuring approximately 45 millimetres long and 33 millimetres wide.
Teal form monogamous pairs in the winter, but males end the relationship once incubation begins. Paired males may attempt to mate with other females too, sometimes injuring or even killing them in the process.
Pair of Eurasian Teal during the winter
Teal can be rather aggressive little wildfowl. Both males and females will fight by striking their opponent with their wings or by pecking and pulling with their bills. However, they rarely attack other bird species and are more likely to be victimised by larger waterfowl.
Teal sleep on the water, in the shallows, or on low perches near the bank. They typically sleep standing on one leg with their head turned back and their bill nestled between their shoulder feathers. However, Teal are not strictly diurnal and will feed in the evening or through the night in the colder months.
Eurasian Teal resting on the bank
Teal have both migratory and resident populations. A few thousand Teal nest in the UK, but the vast majority arrive from Iceland, Mainland Europe, and Russia for the winter.
Eurasian Teal are a native species in the United Kingdom.
Eurasian Teal in-flight
Eurasian and Green-winged Teal were long considered to be subspecies of a single species (Anas crecca). Despite a very similar appearance, the North American birds have been elevated to full species status and are now known as the Green-winged Teal (A. carolinensis).
Apart from their New World distribution, these birds differ from the Eurasian Teal (A. crecca) in having a vertical white stripe on either side of the breast, below the head. Green-winged Teals also lack the white stripe on the closed wing below the scapulars.
Common Teal, Eurasian Green-winged Teal
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
34cm to 38cm
58cm to 64cm
240g to 400g
The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
One of several similar wildfowl species in the Anser genus, Greater White-fronted Geese live up to their name with a distinctive white patch on the front of their face. The species is extremely widespread, although there are several sub-species, each with different breeding and overwintering ranges.
Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.
Tundra Bean Goose
The tundra bean goose is the most common species of bean goose, and breeds on Russian tundra landscapes. Winters are spent grazing on open fields, marshes and agricultural land in western and central Europe and East Asia.
The Tufted Duck is the UK’s most common diving duck and a familiar sight on lakes and ponds across the country. Known for their long, hair-like tufts, these small waterfowl are fairly easy to identify but may be confused with other ducks from the Aythya genus.
Taiga Bean Goose
Taiga bean geese are a common sight on northern taiga marshes of Siberia and northern Scandinavia in spring and summer, before heading south into Europe each winter. Several hundred individuals spend winters in the UK, with rare vagrant visitors occasionally reported in North America.
One of seven American goose species, the Snow Goose is a noisy migrant that visits the Lower 48 states each winter. These beautiful birds have increased dramatically since the second half of the 20th century.
Despite being only a rare winter visitor to the British Isles, the Smew is one of the countrys most unmistakable and easily identified duck species. Breeding across Central Asia and returning to Western Europe during winter months, smews begin to turn up on inland lakes as well as in coastal regions from November onwards.
One look at the bill of a northern shoveler should be enough to provide you with an accurate species identification: their flattened shovel-like bills are unique among waterfowl and allow them to feed on tiny plankton by sweeping their heads across the water’s surface.
A large colourful duck, often found in coastal areas, the shelduck, is an established breeding waterbird in the UK. British wetlands are also a major wintering ground for the species, hosting up to 30 percent of Europe’s shelduck population each autumn.
A medium-sized diving duck, the greater scaup is known simply as the scaup in Europe, and locally as the ‘bluebill’ in North America. Only a handful of scaup breed in the UK, making it the rarest breeding duck in the British Isles.
A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
Colourful and instantly recognisable diving ducks, red-crested pochards are present in the UK in small numbers, believed to have initially been introduced into the wild from private wildfowl collections. Some breeding does occur in Britain, although the best chance of a sighting comes with the arrival of several hundred migrants each winter.
A speedy migratory wildfowl with a hardcore hairstyle, the Red-breasted Merganser is widespread in coastal and estuarine habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Pintails are distinctive migratory waterfowl. Drakes in breeding plumage are particularly attractive, although the drabber females and non-breeding males are still identifiable by their long necks and graceful form.
Although the pink-footed goose does not breed in Britain, it is a common winter visitor, with over half a million migrating individuals arriving each autumn from breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard peninsula.
One of the world’s heaviest flying birds, and one of the most beautiful too, the Mute Swan is a majestic waterfowl with a mean reputation.
Sightings of wild Mandarin Ducks in the United States cause quite a stir, and it’s easy to see why. These small but eye-catching waterfowl are, in fact, native to the Far East of Asia, although their popularity as an ornamental species has resulted in their introduction to many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.
Instantly recognizable, the Mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck that is familiar to people all over the world. These adaptable waterfowl are the ancestor of the modern domestic duck and are found everywhere from remote wilderness lakes to suburban backyards.
One of the most distinctive duck breeds, thanks to their extended streaming tail feathers, the long-tailed duck is a coastal waterbird that spends winters at sea, foraging for crustaceans in marine waters, after breeding on Arctic tundra landscapes.
The Greylag goose is the largest grey goose from the Anser genus of the Anatidae family of waterbirds. A stout, robust and heavyweight bird, the Greylag goose is the closest wild relative and ancestor to the domestic goose. Greylag geese are distributed across much of Europe and Asia, extending into eastern Russia and China. Most populations migrate, but some are sedentary, including in much of Northern Europe.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
Goldeneyes are distinctive diving ducks that thrive in cold environments, breeding in boreal forests across Canada, northern Scandinavia and northern Russia. Only when the lakes and coastal areas on their summer territories begin to freeze over as fall approaches do they begin to head south to milder regions where they spend winter months foraging on inland lakes and around sheltered bays.
The Gargeney is a dabbling duck, slightly smaller than a mallard, and considered a rare breeder in the UK, with just over 100 pairs recorded. A fully migratory species, all garganeys spend winters in southern Africa, leaving breeding grounds as early as July, so your window for spotting one on British waters is only a very brief one.
The Gadwall is a widely distributed dabbling duck of the Anatidae family that breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. This hardy duck breeds as far north as Siberia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and coastal Alaska and is found across both the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large and widespread sea duck that is perhaps best known for its valuable insulating down feathers.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.
Once decimated through overhunting and habitat destruction, the Canada Goose has rebounded to become one of North America’s most abundant and familiar wildfowl.
A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
A subspecies of the North American tundra swan, Bewick’s swans breed in Siberia and arrive in the UK each autumn. Worrying declines have been observed in the European population in recent years, and today only around 4,350 individuals migrate to the UK each winter.
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