Living Sanibel: Mallards and Blue Winged Teal can be found in SW Florida
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Without question the male and female mallard pair are what most people imagine when they think of wild ducks. The distinctive, iridescent green head, yellow bill, white necklace, and dark brown chest of the male mallard make it an easy bird to identify. The female mallard is easily mistaken for either sex of the Florida mottled duck. To make identification even easier, both sexes make an unmistakable quack, when flying or foraging. The old adage could easily be modified to read, “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck… it’s probably a mallard.”
The mallard and the Muscovy duck are the root of all domesticated ducks in the world. The mallard has been introduced into Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia and is thriving. The mallard is considered an invasive species in New Zealand, where it displaces native birds.
It is easy to domesticate, and with feeding even wild flocks can settle in a backyard pond for their entire lives. In North America the mallard can be found from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, east to Greenland, and south to Mexico. Most of the Florida population is migratory, but a fair number of resident birds are found across the state as well. All of the resident birds are semi-domesticated, as the true wild mallard returns north to nest every year.
Because of its ability to adapt readily to urbanization, the mallard is flourishing worldwide. It is a game bird in Florida, where hunters are allowed as many as four mallards in their six-duck daily bag limit, though only two can be hens. The mallard is a dipping feeder whose diet is almost exclusively duck weed, insect larvae, seeds, and aquatic vegetation. It is preyed upon by a wide array of predators, from coyotes to foxes and owls to falcons. The chicks and eggs are taken by everything from snapping turtles to water moccasins.
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
The blue-winged teal is one of the first birds to head south for the winter and one of the last to leave Florida in the spring. Because it waits so long to leave, this is one of the few birds you can find in Southwest Florida that begins to show its bright breeding plumage before its migration north. The female resembles the Florida mottled duck, but is much smaller. The teal feeds primarily on aquatic vegetation and marine insects, but will also graze on land, eating seeds and berries.
This bird can cover great distances in its migration, summering in northern Alberta and wintering in Colombia, a distance of more than 7,000 miles. Despite being heavily hunted on its annual migration southward, the blue-winged teal is one of the most common wintering ducks in Florida. You can often find flocks of up to 50 or 60 in larger wetlands. Because it is targeted by hunters, the teal is extremely skittish; you are unlikely to get much closer to one than gunshot range.
Its primary threat is loss of wetlands habitat, both in the United States and in Central and South America where many of the birds winter. Tens of thousands are taken every year during duck-hunting season. The nests and chicks fall victim to otters, mink, fishers, snapping turtles, snakes, and birds.
This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.