A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

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


Green-winged Teal is among the smallest duck we regularly see in Sonoma County (only the Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) is of comparable size). A fairly common presence on estuaries, freshwater and saltwater marshes, and ponds during the winter months, but rarely in large numbers. Prefers very shallow water with vegetation, including flooded fields and seasonal pools. Green-winged Teals start arriving in the area in early to mid-September. Most are gone by early May. Generally not present in June, July, or August. Likely places to find this bird in Sonoma County include Shollenberger Park, Ellis Creek Water Recycling Plant, and Hudeman Slough. Usually in pairs or small flocks. Often associates with other dabbling ducks such as Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera) and Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata). The birds we normally see are the subspecies A. crecca carolinensis

Notably small, at about 14 inches (35.6cm) head to toe, or about half the size of a Northern Pintail (Anas acuta). Males are hard to mistake for anything else. Look for the rufous face marked with a broad slash of rich green around and behind the eye. Fine white line under the green area, often most obvious under the dark eye. Bill black. Looks mostly plain grey above, but at close quarters the fine patterning on the flanks should be apparent and the breast is a pale, creamy color with dark speckling. Note the vertical white stripe near the front of the bird (lacking in the Eurasian subspecies A. crecca crecca, most birds in North America are A. crecca carolinensis the bird pictured here). A black lateral stripe may or may not be visible, depending on how the wings are tucked. Black at the rear but with a prominent creamy white patch above the black. Females are more challenging, but the green in the wing may show (photo below), revealing the bird’s identity. Distinguished from other female teals by its smaller size and by its grey bill, which is thinner as well. Variable dark eyeline. Note the pale area below the tail in female Green-winged Teal, contrasting with the darker, heavily scalloped back and flanks. Lacks the extensive pale area at the base of the bill and chin of female Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors). In flight, look for a green and black speculum bordered by cream in front, white in back. Pale to white in center of underwing. Fast, nimbly turning flight in tight flocks may suggest a shorebird.  

Trivia: 1. According to  Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, fastest growing chicks of any North American duck.

2. Despite the name “teal,” not as closely related to Cinnamon Teal and Blue-winged Teal as the latter two are to each other.

The challenges of female duck identification (includes a quiz)

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 32

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 42

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, pp. 32, 52

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, pp. 28, 51

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 43-44

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 64

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 85

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 42

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

Kaufman, Advanced Birding, 1990, p. 8

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 144, 148, 150, 151, 153

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 15-16

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 7

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

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

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

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 80

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 29

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 53

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



© Colin Talcroft, 2009-2016

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.


Green-winged Teal (female) Ellis Creek Water Recycling Plant, February 24, 2013

The green in the wing is not normally so easily visible--in fact, it’s often hidden entirely.

Green-winged Teal

Anas crecca

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated July 10, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

Green-winged Teal (male) Ellis Creek Water Recycling Plant, February 24, 2013

Green-winged Teal (male) Ellis Creek Water Recycling Plant, January 24, 2016