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In each issue of BirdWatching magazine, field-guide author, photographer, and bird artist Kenn Kaufman describes how to identify birds in his long-running column “ID Tips.” Each column focuses on a few similar species and explains how you can tell them apart in the field. Kenn also includes a brief historical note or other newsworthy story about the species in each issue’s column. In our April 2018 issue, Kenn explains the identification of Blue-winged Teal and its close relatives Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal, and he offers the story below, about the long distances Blue-winged Teal travel compared to other species of duck.
As a general rule, ducks don’t migrate long distances. This may not be obvious if we just look at them from a North American perspective, because plenty of ducks migrate from Alaska or Canada to the southern states for the winter. But if we look at the whole Western Hemisphere, we see that many smaller birds migrate much farther.
Sandpipers and plovers from the high Arctic may fly to the southern tip of South America. Warblers, thrushes, and vireos from Canada’s boreal forest may travel to Central America or to the Amazon Basin. By contrast, very few of the northern ducks go much beyond the southern border of the United States.
The Blue-winged Teal is a major exception to this rule. Good numbers may remain through winter in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, but the majority fly farther south. Large flocks can be found wintering in the coastal lowlands of Mexico and Central America. Others spend the season on wetlands throughout the Caribbean and northern South America, with flocks as far south as Peru and strays reaching southern Argentina.
Birders on pelagic trips off the Atlantic Coast of North America sometimes see flocks of migrating Blue-winged Teal far out at sea, in swift, direct flight to or from wintering areas far to the south.
Outside the Americas, the species has wandered to Europe many times and has even reached Africa. — Kenn Kaufman
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