Monday, December 11, 2017

Episode 398 (12-11-17): The Green and Blue of Teal

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:09).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 12-8-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of December 11, 2017.

MUSIC – ~9 sec

That’s the tune of “Ducks on the Pond,” attributed to the late Henry Reed, a traditional musician who lived in Giles County, Va., and performed here by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg.  The music sets the stage for this week’s mystery sound from a familiar duck on Virginia’s wintertime ponds and other waters.  Have a listen for about 10 seconds and see if you can guess what’s making this descending series of quacks.  And here’s a hint: the color of money will help you wing this deal.

SOUND - ~10 sec

If you guessed a Green-winged Teal, you’re right!  The Green-winged Teal is one of two teal species found in Virginia—the other is the Blue-winged.  According to the Virginia Deparment of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Green-winged is a common coastal Virginia winter resident, and an occasional breeding-season resident, while the Blue-winged sometimes breeds along Virginia’s coast but is more commonly seen during migration.  Both these teal are found on ponds, lakes, wetlands, and estuaries, including the Chesapeake Bay.

The names green-winged and blue-winged refer to the colored, iridescent feathers of the birds’ speculum, a rectangular area on their wings’ trailing edge, more noticeable when the birds are flying.  Of the Blue-winged Teal, John James Audubon in the 1800s wrote that “When flying in flocks in clear sunny weather, the blue of their wings glistens like polished steel.”  A distinctively-colored speculum is charactistic of the sub-family of waterfowl that includes teal along with Mallards, the Wood Duck, and several other familiar species.  Teal and related ducks are known as surface-feeders, or dabblers, because of their habit of tipping up their tail and stretching their necks underwater—but not diving—to feed on vegetation or small animals.  The Green-winged Teal is the smallest dabbler in North America, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in motion.  Again quoting Audubon: “On land, the Green-wing moves with…ease and grace; it can run at a good rate, without entangling its webbed feet; on the water, also, it moves with great ease…[and]…[o]n wing it has no rivals among ducks.”

Thanks to Lang Elliott for permission to use this week’s sounds, from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs.  Thanks also to Timothy Seaman for this week’s music, and we close with a few more seconds of “Ducks on the Pond.”

MUSIC - ~12 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The sounds of the Green-winged Teal were taken from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott, whose work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site,

The version of “Ducks on the Pond” heard in this episode is by Timothy Seaman, from the 2004 album “Virginia Wildlife,” on Pine Wind Records, used with permission; that album was done in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  More information about Timothy Seaman is available online at

“Ducks on the Pond” is attributed to Henry Reed (1884-1968), a native of West Virginia but a long-time resident of Glen Lyn in Giles County, Virginia; more information about Henry Reed is available online at   Information on the tune is available from The Traditional Tune Archive, online at  A June 1966 recording by Alan Jabbour of the tune being played by Mr. Reed is available from the Library of Congress, online at

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at

Blue-winged Teal (upper) and Green-winged Teal (lower) paintings originally published between 1827 and 1838 by John James Audubon in Birds of America (plates 313 [CCCXIII] and 228 [CCXXVIII], respectively), as reprinted in 1985 by Abbeville Press, New York.  Photo taken December 10, 2017, from the reprint copy (no. 6 of 350 copies printed in 1985) owned by Special Collections of Virginia Tech Libraries.  Virginia Water Radio thanks Special Collections for permission to photograph their copy and for their assistance. Information about Birds of America is available from the National Audubon Society, online at

Blue-winged Teal at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming in June 2015.  Photo by Tom Koerner, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at, accessed 12/11/17; direct link is
Green-winged Teal at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming in March 2015.  Photo by Tom Koerner, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at, accessed 12/11/17; direct link is


On Blue-winged Teal

From the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Blue-winged Teal,” online at

General Occurrence Comments: On the Coastal Plain it is a common transient in the spring and fall, and a rare and irregular winter resident mostly in the extreme southeast.   It is a locally uncommon summer (end of April-end of August) resident along the coast.  It is rare elsewhere.  In the Piedmont it is an uncommon transient in spring and fall, and a rare summer and winter visitor.  In the Mountains and Valleys it is an uncommon transient in spring and fall, and a rare summer and winter visitor. ... Habitat association: This species prefers shorelines to open water and also calm waters or sluggish currents to fast water; in Chesapeake Bay, preferred wintering habitat is brackish estuarine bay marshes.  Nesting habitat is used most extensively in the Chesapeake Bay area consists of salt-marsh cordgrass (Spartina) meadows with adjoining tidal ponds or creeks.  Blue-winged teal typically selects the tallest, most dense herbaceons vegetation available for nesting. … Food habits: The diet is 25% animal matter and 75% vegetable.  Half of the animal diet is snails and other molluscs.”

On Green-winged Teal

From the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Green-winged Teal,” online at

General Occurrence Comments: This is a common transient and winter resident on the Coastal Plain, and uncommon inland.  Peak counts occur along the coast during winter. … Habitat Associations: They are found in ponds, lakes, sedge meadows, marshes near grasslands, dry hillsides with bushy thickets or adjacent open woodlands.  They are generally an upland nester.  This species winters in tidal creeks and ponds bordered by mud flats, freshwater marshes, estuaries and coastal brackish marshes.   It avoids open salt water.  They use available cover for nests but prefer dense stands of grass, weeds, and brush.  Nests are usually 2 to 300 feet from water with an average of 95 feet. ...Lives in creeks and ponds bordered by mud flats at low tide.  Fresh or brackish creeks and ponds preferred over salt marshes. …Typical nesting habitat: grassland, sedge meadow, dry hillsides with aspen or brush thickets, open woods adjacent to slough or ponds. … General Food Comments: About 90% of diet is vegetation.  On mud flats, Green-wing Teals prefer seeds of moist soil plants (nut grasses, millet, smart weeds, water hemp) from previous years as well as insects and mollusks.  They will also take the seeds of bulrushes, pond weeds, and spike rushes.”


Used for Audio

John James Audubon, “Blue-winged Teal,” from Birds of America, accessed from The Audubon Society, online at

John James Audubon, “Green-winged Teal,” from Birds of America, accessed from The Audubon Society, online at

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Blue-winged Teal,” online at

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at  The Blue-winged Teal entry is online at; the Green-winged Teal entry at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, “Birds of North America Online,” online at (subscription required for access).  The Blue-winged Teal entry is online at; the Green-winged Teal entry at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Blue-winged Teal,” online at

For More Information about Birds in Virginia and Elsewhere
Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID.”  The application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird. Information is available online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, “eBird,” online at  Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at  The Society is non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site at The site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Birds” subject category.

Following are links to some other episode on ducks:
Canvasback – Episode 197, 1/20/14 ;
Common Goldeneye – Episode 303, 2/15/16;
Diving vs. dabbling ducks – Episode 197, 1/20/14;
Ducks in Virginia generally – Episode 136, 11/12/12;
Winter birds in Virginia generally (including Hooded Merganser) – Episode 150, 2/25/13.


The episode may help with Virginia 2013 Music SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

This episode may also help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
3.4 - behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 - food webs.
3.6 - ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
4.5 - ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystem.
5.5 - cell structures and functions, organism classification, and organism traits.
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.4 - organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 - adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors, including characteristics of land, marine, and freshwater environments.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to previous Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.
Episode 249 (1-19-15) – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade;
Episode 250 (1-26-15) – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade;
Episode 255 (3-2-15) – on density, for 5th and 6th grade;
Episode 282 (9-21-15) – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten;
Episode 309 (3-28-16) – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade; Episode 332 (9-12-16) – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.