A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Blue-winged Teal is a fairly uncommon duck in Sonoma County, but it has been recorded here in all twelve months of the year. Probably most numerous during spring and autumn migration. It is believed to breed in the county on occasion, but breeding was not officially confirmed as of the latest (1995) edition of the Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas. Usually seen in and around shallow freshwater habitats. Likes muddy areas. Feeds mostly on seeds of aquatic plants, skimming the surface of the water with its large bill. Often seen in pairs or in small groups. Conspicuously smaller than most common duck species, except Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca).  

Male Blue-winged Teals are easily recognized by their bluish-grey heads marked with a bold crescent of white in front of the eye. Otherwise, males are mostly scalloped in shades of brown and buff, but there is a white patch toward the rump of the bird. Longer feathers cascade over the back. Hints of the teal green speculum or chalky blue patches on the wings (conspicuous in flight) may be visible along the side of the bird in some attitudes when swimming or when resting in the water or on land. These pale blue wing patches, which give the bird its name, comprise the median, lesser, and marginal coverts. A narrow white wedge (white tips on the greater coverts, progressively more white toward the tip of the wing, creating the wedge shape) separates the blue patch from the true speculum, formed by mostly green secondaries. Female Blue-winged Teals are scalloped in buff and brown, but with a paler, plainer head, Females have a faint broken eyering, a fairly well-defined brown eyeline, and may show pale blue along the side, like males. Note that males of this species are often in eclipse plumage (the drab temporary plumage males take on following breeding season) later than many other dabbling ducks and may be mistaken for females of this or other species. 

The challenges of female duck identification (includes a quiz)


Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 30

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 40

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 187

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 36

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 32

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 39-40

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 68

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 81

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 30

Kaufman, Advanced Birding, 1990, p. 2

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 38, 144, 148-151, 154, 155, 157-159

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 70, pp. 84-85

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 28, 42-43

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 48, pp. 66-67

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 79

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p.25

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 49

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Blue-winged Teal



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Blue-winged Teals, Shollenberger Park, Petaluma, October 31, 2009

Blue-winged Teal

Anas discors

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County