The male Green-winged Teals have been working on their feathers all winter, and today, the 17th of February, they were ready to do battle for the attention of their fair females. Who, I’m sorry to say, paid no attention to the males whatsoever.
Green-winged Teals are not nature’s most fearsome warriors. They are among the smallest of our state’s ducks, and perhaps the mildest. They are lovers, not fighters. When other ducks put their heads down flat on the water and paddle furiously toward each other, like aqueous jousters tilting in a medieval tournament, the Green-winged Teals sit on the sidelines and chirp. Oh, they’ll give each other an occasional nip when they’re feeling irritated enough, but you can tell their hearts aren’t in it.
However, even Green-winged Teals feel the hormones begin to flow in late winter, and they are moved to duel. I watched six males displaying their prowess on the Lagoon today. You have to have quick eyes to see how they scrap because their clashes are over in less than two seconds. Green-winged Teals always give me the impression they’d rather be reciting poetry.
Here’s a typical exchange. One male paddled close to another and fluffed out the feathers of his dark green mask. Then the male formed his green neck feathers into a discrete point at the back and quickly raised his neck up and then ratcheted it back down again, like a Pez dispenser granting a small candy. The display ended with a little chirp. “Take that, you varlet.”
The second male, not to be outdone, pointed his little feathers into a crest, ratcheted his neck up and down, and gave his own little chirp. “How do you like them apples, buster?”
This excited the other males so much that they all pointed their crests and ratcheted their necks at each other. A big chirp fest ensued. The females went to sleep.