The teal (Anas crecca) is one of the smallest wild ducks in the UK. The drake (male) in breeding plumage is also one of the most handsome of birds. The body is pale grey, finely lined with darker striations on the underside, and slightly broader markings on the back and wings, with a cream chest patch featuring fine black spots. The head is a dark brick red, almost russet, boldly crossed by a broad bottle-green eye stripe lined with cream. Under the black and white patterned tail, there is a noticeable creamy-yellow patch, which is very conspicuous in flight. The female is typically mottled brown, as are the males after moulting when they are said to be in 'eclipse', and juveniles. Both sexes display a wing-bar in flight; this bar is dark green and black with a white flash in front of the other two colours. The drakes make a distinctive ringing whistle similar to that of the pintail but higher pitched, and thought by some to have inspired the common English name. The female teal makes a soft and high-pitched quack.
The courtship display of the drake teal involves the bird dipping the tip of its bill under the surface of the water, then whistling, arching its back and tipping its head back, while raising its wings across its back and cocking its tail. Like most ducks, female teals take sole responsibility for rearing the ducklings. The nest is constructed on dry ground on an upland moor, often amongst bracken or under gorse. The nest is lined with dried leaves and down from the female's breast. The eggs, laid in April or May, are greeny-buff and may number as many as ten. They hatch after three weeks of incubation and the duck leads them down to water as soon as the ducklings' down is dry. Teal feed on waterweed, insects and other water invertebrates.
Teal have been a quarry species for centuries as they are considered very good eating. Bones from the birds have been found in the Roman settlement of Silchester in Hampshire.
The teal has an extensive range, like the shoveler, across most of the world's northern latitudes. In the UK, the birds are found over most of the country in winter, but move to the northern upland areas during the breeding season.
The teal is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) in the UK. Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern).
It has been calculated that nearly 70,000 individual teal are present annually in the UK outside the breeding season. This represents about 17 percent of the global population for this species. The success of the teal is thought to be due in part to an increase in the available wetland habitat, much of this due to reclaimed mineral extraction sites. However, teal are susceptible to low winter temperatures, and will migrate south to escape bad conditions. This can influence population figures either way, depending on the prevailing weather.
Teal are one of the migratory bird species that are used to assess the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the EC Birds Directive. One site that qualifies as an SPA, and which plays host to about 1.5 percent of the north-western Europe population for the birds, is the Lower Derwent Valley in the East Riding of Yorkshire. This site is one of the most important – and largest – examples of traditionally managed wetland in the UK, and is home to large numbers wildfowl and waders, as well as bitterns.
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