Some ducks make very different sounds than the traditional Mallard quack. On a return trip to the Big Creek conservation trail in Long Point, March 2022, I was quite intrigued to hear squadrons of ducks uttering whistle-type calls as they scooted about on the water or took to the air. These were American Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis), the smallest species of dabbling duck in North America, approximately pigeon-sized (Baldassarre 2014).
To hear what these small ducks sound like, here is a link to an audio recording of Green-winged Teals whistling: https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/86925491.
Apparently, it is the males that whistle while the females produce quacks (Baldassarre 2014). Green-winged Teals breed across the boreal and deciduous forests of North America, preferring wooded wetlands. Their nests are very difficult to find, concealed among tall grasses or shrubs. These ducks migrate early in the Spring to the northern breeding grounds, and it’s likely that the Teals I saw in March were using Long Point marshes as a stopping ground on their way north.
Teals use their bills (and the fine toothlike combs at the edges called lamellae) to filter tiny food items from shallow water such as seeds and invertebrates. Unsurprisingly because of their overall small size, it seems that Green-winged Teals are particularly good at feeding on very small food items, as opposed to Mallards, which are more generalist feeders (Baldassarre 2014).
Two fun stories about the word ‘Teal’ to finish off with. One is that, according to wikipedia teal is a word that originally meant “small dabbling duck” or something like that and was applied to several species of ducks before it was applied to the blue-green colour*, because of the bright “teal” markings on the wings (and heads of the males).
*I can’t find this mentioned in my books about ducks or anywhere well-sourced. I believe it to be true and fascinating but wikipedia is the main source I can find this fact on, so take that how you will.
My other anecdote about Teals I would like to share is about one of my favourite nature writers, Edwin Way Teale (it’s also the reason this post has a Dr. Seussian title). In his book, North with the Spring (Teale 1951), he tells of a time when his naturalist ways came under suspicion by the law. He and his friend had been out one winter day, watching ducks at a pond. Across the pond was a building which used to be a military plant, and I guess the fear of foreign spies caused a local to report the pair of men staring in that direction with binoculars.
As Teale himself says: “The dialogue that ensued when the first officer reached us might well have been a skit on a vaudeville stage.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking at ducks.”
“What’s your name?”
By the light in his eye I could tell he had heard about teal ducks. The light said: A wise guy, eh?
I have friends who are named Crow, Crane, Raven and Rook. Fortunately, they were not along that day.” (Teale 1951, p. 288).
Baldassarre, Guy. 2014. Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America, 2 Vols. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Teale, Edwin Way. 1951. North with the Spring. Dodd, Mead, & Company.
For other posts about Long Point Observations, see: