- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant; tends to migrate early in the fall (late August–early October), but on rare occasions a few birds linger into the early winter before migrating south. The Blue-winged Teal was a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The Blue-winged Teal is broadly distributed across Alaska, Canada, and the northern United States; in the west the species occurs as far south as New Mexico and Texas. The Blue-winged Teal reaches its highest breeding densities in the Prairie Pothole Region of the north-central United States and the southern Canadian Prairie Provinces (Figure 1).
A game species, the Blue-winged Teal is designated a Moderate Priority by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. It has been assigned a Continental Concern Score of 7/20 by Partners in Flight.
A long-distance migrant, wintering from the southern United States south to northern South America.
A dabbler that feeds on aquatic invertebrates and plants; rarely feeds away from water except during fall migration.
Roberts (1932) made the following observation regarding the Blue-winged Teal’s abundance in Minnesota in the early 1900s:
While the Blue-winged Teal is far less abundant than it was fifty years ago, it is today the commonest of the summer resident Ducks, having endured the destructive changes attendant upon the settling of the state better than any other species. Almost every suitable slough and marshy lake throughout the state has one or more pairs of nesting birds.
Indeed, when Walter Breckenridge surveyed western Minnesota in 1929, he found the species to be the most common waterfowl in the region (Roberts 1932). At the time, confirmed nesting records (nests with eggs) were available from Jackson County in the southwest corner of the state, Grant County in west-central Minnesota, Polk and Kittson Counties in the northwest, and Hennepin County in east-central Minnesota. Breeding evidence (young broods) was also available from Big Stone, Cook, and Lincoln Counties.
Many years later, Green and Janssen (1975) described the Blue-winged Teal as a summer resident throughout the state and, once again, as the most abundant breeding duck in the state. When Janssen (1987) prepared an updated account of the species’ status just 12 years later, the Blue-winged Teal had moved to second place, outnumbered only by the Mallard, which continues to be the most common waterfowl species in the state to this day. Although breeding records were available from all regions of the state, Janssen noted that the species was least abundant in the northeastern counties.
By 2014, fieldwork conducted by the Minnesota Biological Survey documented the species’ strong presence throughout the Prairie Parkland Province, with numerous records in all but the most intensively cultivated counties. Farther to the north and east, breeding season observations were more sparsely distributed (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016). Since 1970, Hertzel and Janssen (1998) reported nesting had been confirmed in 69 of Minnesota’s 87 counties; 11 of the 18 counties where it had not been documented nesting were in the southern third of the state.
During the MNBBA, participants reported 1,524 Blue-winged Teal records in 20.3% (967/4,768) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 21.9% (511/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 159 (3.3%) atlas blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The species was observed in 86 of Minnesota’s 87 counties (absent in Pine County) and was confirmed breeding in 51 counties. It was most abundant in the Prairie Parkland Province, especially in west-central Minnesota, and in the northern half of the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province; it was least abundant in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. The land suitability model for the Blue-winged Teal predicts that suitable habitat occurs throughout the Prairie Parklands, especially from the west-central counties of Lac qui Parle and Big Stone north to the Canadian border (Figure 4). The importance of the wetland complexes in eastern Marshall County also is highlighted.
The Blue-winged Teal was the third-most-common duck species reported during the MNBBA, outnumbered by both the Mallard and the Wood Duck. Although its relative abundance has changed since Roberts’s first comprehensive account of the species in 1932, the core of its breeding distribution in the state has likely changed very little.
In their comprehensive review of the Blue-winged Teal, Rohwer and his colleagues (2002) noted several historical changes in the species’ breeding distribution. Most significant may be the species’ increase in abundance along the East Coast, where the creation of waterfowl impoundments has improved habitat opportunities. Increases have also been noted in the western United States, where the species was formerly uncommon west of the Rocky Mountains. In contrast, in portions of the Upper Midwest where wetland losses have been significant, such as Iowa and Illinois, the species is likely less common than it was prior to extensive European settlement (Rohwer et al. 2002).
Among neighboring states and provinces that have conducted two atlases, both Michigan and Ontario documented significant declines, either in the number of townships reporting the Blue-winged Teal (Michigan) (Chartier et al. 2013) or in the overall probability of observation (Ontario) (Cadman et al. 2007). Both Iowa (Iowa Ornithologists’ Union 2017) and South Dakota (Drilling et al. 2016), however, reported increases during the second atlas. South Dakota attributed the small number of reports during its first atlas to drier conditions, which decreased the availability of suitable wetlands.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.