Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
AMERICAN GREEN-WINGED TEAL.
ANAS CAROLINENSIS, Steph.
PLATE CCCXCII.--MALE, AND FEMALE.
Nothing can be more pleasing to an American sportsman, than the arrival of
this beautiful little Duck in our Southern or Western States. There, in the
month of September, just as the sun sinks beneath the horizon, you may find him
standing on some mote or embankment of a rice-field in Carolina, or a neck of
land between two large ponds in Kentucky, his gun loaded with number four, and
his dog lying at his feet. He sees advancing from afar, at a brisk rate, a
small dark cloud, which he has some minutes ago marked and pronounced to be a
flock of Green-winged Teals. Now be squats on his haunches; his dog lies close;
and ere another minute has elapsed, right over his head, but too high to be shot
at, pass the winged travellers. Some of them remember the place well, for there
they have reposed and fed before. Now they wheel, dash irregularly through the
air, sweep in a close body over the watery fields, and in their course pass near
the fatal spot where the gunner anxiously awaits. Hark, two shots in rapid
succession! The troop is in disorder, and the do, dashes through the water.
Here and there lies a Teal, with its legs quivering; there, one is whirling
round in the agonies of death; some, which are only wined, quickly and in
silence make their way towards a hiding-place, while one, with a single pellet
in his head, rises perpendicularly with uncertain beats, and falls with a splash
on the water. The gunner has charged his tubes, his faithful follower has
brought up all the game, and the frightened Teals have dressed their ranks, and
flying now high, now low, seem curious to see the place where their companions
have been left. Again they fly over the dangerous spot, and again receive the
double shower of shot. Were it not that darkness has now set in, the carnage
might continue until the sportsman should no longer consider the thinned flock
worthy of his notice. In this manner, at the first arrival of the Green-winged
Teal in the Western Country, I have seen upwards of six dozen shot by a single
gunner in the course of one day.
I have often thought that water-birds, Ducks for example, like land-birds
which migrate in flocks, are very apt to pass over the place where others of the
same kind had been before. Pigeons, Starlings, Robins, and other land-birds are
often observed to do so; while Curlews, Cormorants, Plovers, Ducks and Geese,
are similar in this respect. The first object in view with such species is to
remove from one part of the country to another, as every one knows; and as to
reach a place of safety abundantly supplied with food, is the next object, you
may perhaps join me in concluding, that, to the spot or district in which birds
have once been and spent a season, they are ever afterwards inclined to return.
Well, the Green-wings are known to follow each other in flocks, sometimes
consisting of a few families, sometimes of many hundred individuals,
particularly in autumn, when old and young leave the north to avoid the rigours
of its dreary winter. In spring, again, many species both of land and water
birds perform their migrations, either singly or in smaller groups, the males
departing before the females, and in some cases the young keeping by themselves,
an arrangement perhaps intended for the greater dispersion of the species.
In Louisiana, the Green-winged Teal is named Sarcelle d'hiver, while the
Blue-winged species bears the name of Sarcelle d'ete, although the latter
remains only some weeks in that country after the departure of the former. Its
general name, however, is the "Green-wing;" and a poor name in my opinion it is,
for the bird has not more green on its wings than several other species have.
Indeed, very many birds are strangely named, not less in pure Latin, than in
English, French, and Dutch; and very many are every year receiving names still
stranger than those they bore. For my part, I am at present a kind of
conservative, and adhere to the old system until I see the mud raised up by the
waders subside, when I may probe my way with more chance of success.
The Green-winged Teal is a fresh-water bird, being rarely met with in
marine bays, creeks, or lagoons, where, however, it may sometimes spend a few
days. It is accordingly enabled to feed with its body half immersed, in the
manner of the Mallard and several other species, for which purpose it is
furnished with a comparatively long neck. Its food consists principally of the
seeds of grasses, which are collected either when floating or when still
adhering to their stalks, small acorns, fallen grapes or berries, as well as
aquatic insects, worms, and small snails. I have never found water lizards,
leeches, fishes, or even tadpoles in their gizzards. The food of this bird
being thus more select than that of most other Ducks, its flesh is delicious,
probably the best of any of its tribe; and I would readily agree with any
epicure in saying, that when it has fed on wild oats at Green Bay, or on soaked
rice in the fields of Georgia and the Carolinas, for a few weeks after its
arrival in those countries, it is much superior to the Canvass-back in
tenderness, juiciness, and flavour. Indeed, the Green-wing is as much superior
to the Canvass-back, as the European Quail is to the Capercailie, or the Sora of
the Delaware to the Scolopaceous Courlan of the Florida everglades.
On land, the Green-wing moves with more ease and grace than any other
species with which I am acquainted, excepting our beautiful Wood Duck. It can
run at a good rate, without entangling its webbed feet, as many others do; and
in this, too, there is a marked difference between fresh-water and salt-water
Ducks, as one may very readily perceive. On the water, also, it moves with
great ease, at times with considerable rapidity, and when not severely wounded,
is able to dive in a very creditable manner. On wing it has no rivals among
Ducks. Our two smaller Mergansers, however, are swifter, although they exhibit
none of the graceful movements ever now and then shewn by the Green-wings, when
coursing in the air over and around a pond, a river, or a large wet savannah.
They rise from the water at a single spring, and so swiftly too, that none but
an expert marksman need attempt to shoot them, if when starting they are many
yards distant. While feeding, they proceed in a close body along the shores, or
wherever the water is so shallow that they can reach the bottom with ease. In
savannahs or watery fields intersected by dry ridges, they remove from one pool
to another on foot, unless the distance is considerable; and in effecting the
transit, they run so huddled together, as to enable a gunner to make great havoc
among them. When the cravings of hunger are satisfied, they retire to some
clean part of the shore, or a sand-bar, where they rest in perfect harmony, each
individual composing its dress, and afterwards, with wings slightly drooping,
placing its breast to the sun. There they remain for an hour or more at a time,
some sound asleep, some dosing, but rarely without a trusty sentinel watching
over their safety. In this manner they spend the winter months in the Southern
and Western Countries. There, indeed, they are far more abundant than in our
eastern districts, just because the climate is milder, the human population more
dispersed, and the damp fields, meadows, and savannahs more abundant.
The migrations of this species are performed more over the land than along
the borders of the sea; and it is probable that its principal breeding-places
are in the interior of the Fur Countries; as it has been met there by Sir EDWARD
PARRY, Sir JAMES ROSS, Dr. RICHARDSON, and other intrepid travellers. Some,
however, remain on our great lakes, and I have seen individuals breeding on the
banks of the Wabash, in Illinois, where I found a female and young, all of which
I obtained. It was not far above Vincennes, in the month of July. On Lakes
Erie and Michigan, nests containing eggs have also been found; but these may
have been cases in which the birds were unable to proceed farther north, on
account of wounds or other circumstances, or because of the early period at
which they might have paired before the general departure of the flocks, a cause
of detention more common in migratory birds than people seem to be aware of
these opportunities, few as they were, have enabled me to see the kinds of
places in which the nests were found, the structure of the nest, the number,
size, and colour of the eggs; so that I have in so far been qualified to draw a
comparison between our Green-winged Teal and that of Europe.
The Green-wings leave the neighbourhood of New Orleans in the end of
February; but in the Carolinas they remain until late in March, at which time
also they depart from all the places between the Atlantic and the States of
Kentucky, Indiana, &c. Farther eastward I have seen this species as late as the
9th of May, when I shot a few not far from Philadelphia. As you advance farther
along our coast, you find it more rare; and scarcely any are met with near the
shores of the British provinces. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it is never
seen. Its migrations southward, I am satisfied, extend beyond the United
States; but their extreme limits are unknown to me. I have seldom seen it
associate with other species, although I have frequently observed individuals on
a pond or river not far from other Ducks. It is more shy than the Blue-winged
Teal, but less so than most of our other fresh-water Ducks. Its voice is seldom
heard during winter, except when a flock is passing over another that has
alighted, when a few of the males call to the voyagers, as if to invite them to
join them. Before they depart, however, they become noisy. Combats take place
among the males; the females are seen coquetting around them, and most of the
birds are paired before they leave us.
In the few instances in which I found the nest of this bird, and they were
only three, it was not placed nearer the water than five or six yards, and I
should not have discovered it had I not first seen the birds swimming or washing
themselves near the spot. By watching them carefully I discovered their landing
places, and on going up found a path formed, in a direct line among the rushes.
In two cases I came so near the nest, as almost to touch the sitting bird as it
rose affrighted. While it flew round me, and then alighted on the water, I
viewed the nest, with perhaps more interest than I have felt on most occasions
of a like nature. On a scanty bed of the bird's own down and feathers,
supported by another of grasses, intermixed with mud and stalks of the plants
around, raised to the height of four or five inches, I found seven eggs in one,
nine in another, and only five in a third. They were all found in the month of
July, and not far from Green Bay. The average measurement of the eggs was an
inch and three quarters by an inch and three-eighths. They were much rounded,
of a dull yellowish colour, indistinctly marked with a deeper tint, as if
soiled. In one of the nests only the eggs were fresh. I took two of them,
which I afterwards ate. Having planted a stick as a mark of recognition, I
visited the nest three days in succession, but found that the bird had abandoned
it; while those of the other two nests, which were not more than about a hundred
yards distant, and whose eggs I had handled quite as much, although I took none
away, continued to sit. No male birds were to be seen during my stay in that
neighborhood. I concluded that although the eggs may be touched or even handled
and lifted from the nest, yet if they were all replaced, the bird did not take
umbrage; but that should any of them be missed, some strong feeling urged her to
abandon the rest. Again I thought that as incubation had just commenced with
this bird, she cared less about her eggs than the other two whose eggs contained
Having met with the young of this species only once, at a time when I was
less aware of the necessity of noting observations in writing, I am unwilling to
speak of their colours from recollection. All I can say is that I had great
trouble in catching four of them, so cunningly did they hide in the grass, and
so expert were they at diving.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL, Anas Crecca, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 101.
ANAS CRECCA, Bonap. Syn., p. 386.
AMERICAN TEAL, Anas Creeca, var. Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 400.
ANAS CRECCA, Green-winged Teal, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii.p. 400.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL, Anas Crecca, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 219; vol. v.p. 616.
Male, 14 3/4, 24. Female, 13 3/4, 22 1/2
Dispersed throughout the country during autumn and spring. Extremely
abundant during winter in all the Southern States and Texas. Breeds sparingly
along the Great Lakes, and far north.
Bill almost as long as the head, deeper than broad at the base, depressed
towards the end, its breadth nearly equal in its whole length, being however a
little enlarged towards the rounded tip. Upper mandible with the dorsal line at
first sloping, then concave, towards the ends nearly straight, the ridge broad
and flat at the base, then broadly convex, the sides convex, the edges soft,
with about fifty-five lamellae. Nostrils sub-basal, near the ridge, rather
small, elliptical, pervious. Lower mandible flattish, with the angle very long
and rather narrow, the dorsal line very short, straight, the sides perpendicular
with about 130 lamellae.
Head of moderate size, compressed. Neck of moderate length, rather
slender. Body full, depressed. Wings rather small. Feet short, placed rather
far back; tarsus short, compressed, at its lower part anteriorly with two series
of scutella, the rest covered with reticulated angular scales. Toes scutellate
above; first toe very small, free, with a narrow, membrane beneath; third
longest; fourth a little shorter; the anterior toes united by reticulated webs,
of which the outer is deeply sinuate; claws small, curved, compressed, acute,
the hind one smaller and more curved, that of the third toe largest, and with an
inner sharp edge.
Plumage dense, soft, blended. Feathers of the middle of the head and upper
part of hind neck, very narrow, elongated, with soft filamentous disunited
bands, of the rest of the head and upper part of neck very short, of the back
and lower paints in general broad and rounded. Wings of moderate length,
narrow, acute; primaries strong, curved, tapering, second longest, first
scarcely shorter; secondaries broad, rather pointed, the inner elongated and
tapering, as are the scapulars. Tail short, rounded and acuminate, of sixteen
Bill black. Iris brown. Feet light bluish-grey. Head and upper part of
the neck chestnut-brown; a broad band, narrowing backwards, from the eye down
the back of the neck, deep shining green, edged with black below, under which is
a white line, which before the eye meets another that curves forward and
downward to the angle of the mouth; chin brownish-black, as are the feathers at
the base of the upper mandible. Upper parts and flanks beautifully undulated,
with narrow brownish-black and white bars; anterior to the wings is a short,
broad, transverse band of white. Wings brownish-grey; the speculum in its lower
half velvet-black, the upper bright green, changing to purple, and edged above
with black, behind margined with white, before with reddish-white. Tail
brownish-grey, the feathers margined with paler; the upper coverts
brownish-black, edged with light yellowish-grey. Lower part of neck anteriorly
barred as behind; breast yellowish-white, spotted with black, its lower part
white; abdomen white, faintly barred with grey; a patch of black under the tail,
the lateral tail-coverts cream-coloured, the larger black, with broad white
margins and tips.
Length to end of tail 14 3/4 inches, to end of claws 15 1/4; extent of
wings 24; wing from flexure 7 1/2; tail 3 1/4; bill along the back 1 7/12, along
the edge of lower mandible 1 9/12; tarsus 1 2/12; middle toe 1 6/12, its claw
5/12. Weight 10 oz.
The female wants the elongated crest, and differs greatly in colouring.
The head and neck are streaked with dark brown and light red, the fore neck
whitish; the upper parts mottled with dark brown, the anterior feathers barred,
the posterior margined with yellowish-white. The wings are nearly as in the
male, but the green of the speculum is less extensive; the lower part of the
fore neck is tinged with yellowish-red, and mottled with dark brown, as are the
sides; the rest of the lower parts white.
Length to end of tail 13 3/4; to end of claws 1 1/4; extent of wings
22 1/2. Weight 10 oz.
Male. Width of mouth 5 twelfths; upper mandible very deeply concave, with
a median prominent line, which is papillate for half its length; the lamellae of
the upper mandible 55, projecting a little beyond the margin, of the lower about
180, and extremely inconspicuous. Tongue 1 1/2 inches long, fleshy, deeply
grooved above, with thin lamellate margins, the tip semicircular, thin, and
horny. OEsophagus 6 1/2 twelfths long, its width 4 twelfths, at the lower part
of the neck enlarged to 7 twelfths, then contracting to 3 twelfths; the
proventriculus oblong, 5 twelfths in breadth. Stomach a transversely
elliptical, oblique gizzard, 1 inch 1 twelfth long, 1 inch 3 twelfths broad, its
lateral muscles extremely developed, the right 6 twelfths, the left 5 twelfths
in thickness, the inferior muscle narrow and prominent, as in all birds of this
family; epithelium very dense, with two opposite concave grinding surfaces.
Intestine 3 feet 7 1/2 inches, with 16 folds, its general width only 1 1/2
twelfths, enlarging here and there to 2 twelfths; coeca 4 1/2 inches long, for
1 1/2 inches 1 twelfth in breadth, enlarging to 3 twelfths, and toward the
extremity 2 twelfths. Rectum 2 1/4 twelfths long, its width 2 1/2 twelfths.
Right lobe of the liver 1 inch 5 twelfths, the other 1 inch 2 twelfths.
Trachea 5 inches long, from 2 1/2 twelfths to 2 twelfths in width,
moderately flattened, ending in a transversely elongated tympanum, projecting to
the left side, with a roundish thin bony prominence; its greatest breadth 8
twelfths, its length 3 twelfths; the rings rather broad, firm, 115, besides a
few blended with the tympanum. The muscles as usual. Bronchial half rings 28