Story: Wetland birds

Page 7. Teal

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Teal are small, short-necked dabbling ducks.

Brown teal – pāteke

The brown teal (Anas chlorotis) is a small, chubby duck with white eye-rings. Males weigh about 600 grams, females 500 grams, and they are 48 centimetres long.

Habitat and feeding

Brown teal inhabit both freshwater and coastal salt-water wetlands, also frequenting damp forest or grassland. They eat invertebrates, seeds, fruit, foliage and sometimes shellfish, feeding mainly at dusk and into the night. Brown teal mostly breed in winter.

Population

The brown teal is endemic (found only in New Zealand), and is classified as nationally endangered. Fossil records show it was the most common wetland species before humans arrived. The bird was still widespread at the end of the 19th century, but numbers plummeted from the 1920s. On Stewart Island this coincided with the spread of feral cats, and on the mainland with a wider range of predators.

In 2004, the brown teal population was around 1,000. Its main toeholds are on Great Barrier Island, parts of Northland and the Coromandel Peninsula – places where community groups and the Department of Conservation are managing pests and restoring the wetland habitat. Some brown teal are bred in captivity then transferred to sites where predators are controlled.

Auckland Island teal

The Auckland Island teal (Anas aucklandica) is related to the brown teal, but has become flightless in its subantarctic home.

This teal is now absent on the largest of the Auckland Islands because of predation by introduced cats and pigs. On the smaller predator-free islands there are about 2,000 birds. They feed in peaty wetlands or around the coast among kelp, dabbling for invertebrates or dredging in muddy bottoms. The birds stay on their territory year-round.

Campbell Island teal

The flightless subantarctic Campbell Island teal (Anas nesiotis) has been resurrected from near-extinction. They were exterminated on the main island by accidentally introduced rats. However, a few birds were discovered in 1975 on Dent Island, a small, precipitous site with little surface water – but without rats.

Several teal were taken for a captive breeding programme, or for release on an island sanctuary. Meanwhile, by 2003, rats had been eradicated from 22,000-hectare Campbell Island. By 2006, over 150 Campbell Island teal had been released on the island.

Grey teal – tētē

The grey teal (Anas gracilis) is a small brown-grey duck with a dark tan head. It is also native to Australia, and grey teal numbers in New Zealand increased noticeably during the 1957 Australian drought.

The population has continued to increase, from below 20,000 in the 1970s to more than 50,000 in 2005. The birds move long distances around the country, seemingly at random.

They are about 43 centimetres long. Males weigh 525 grams, females 425 grams.

Habitat and feeding

Usually in groups, grey teal frequent shallow lakes and swamps with plenty of edge vegetation. Although more common in freshwater habitats, they also use brackish lagoons. Grey teal filter small insects and seeds from the surface. They also sieve along the muddy bottom, and eat seed heads from standing plants.

Grey teal are protected, but some are shot accidentally when misidentified by hunters.

How to cite this page:

Christina Troup, 'Wetland birds - Teal', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/wetland-birds/page-7 (accessed 16 December 2019)

Story by Christina Troup, published 24 Sep 2007, reviewed & revised 17 Feb 2015