Friday, September 3, 2010

SPOTLIGHT: Grey Teal (Anas gibberifrons)

Often described as plain in colour, I think the grey teal is a beautiful bird, with their mottled brown scalloped plumage, subtle shape and stunning red eye. Here in New Zealand the grey teal has a wonderful success story...

The grey teal (Tete) are probably one of the less thought of birds here in New Zealand, these small ducks are often overshadowed by their rare cousins, the Campbell Island teal (critically endangered), the Auckland Island teal, and North & South Island brown teal.

In fact the grey teal was once itself a rare sight in New Zealand, and R.H.D Stidolph in a 1945 article in the 'Emu', an Ornithological Journal, states his delight in sighting the grey teal..."It has been my good fortune to come across the Grey Teal in three different localities in the Wellington district in the last 14 years...". R.H.D Stidolph also states "The grey teal in New Zealand has always been regarded as a rare bird". I can just imagine Stidolph's jubilation if he were to take a stroll down at the oxidation ponds here in Christchurch and see teal in their hundreds!

The 1950's saw an influx of grey teal into New Zealand due to drought in Australia. Grey teal are nomadic and will often travel great distances to colonise suitable habitat following rain. In an Australian study grey teal were recorded covering up to 343km within hours to occupy a new site and were shown to travel over 2000km in a single year! Since the 1950's the population of grey teal has increased, with more than 50,000 birds being recorded here in 2005.

Grey Teal are now considered a common native and thankfully are protected here in New Zealand and subsequently not hunted as they are in Australia.

The photo on the left shows a grey teal typically dabbling (filtering surface water or mud through their bill) for seed and small insects. Other feeding techniques include grazing on plant material from overhanging plants and upending and feeding from the bottom.

Grey teals prefer to build their nests in tree hollows, although will nest on the ground in a shallow bowl of grass often in the cover of reeds. Six to nine cream coloured eggs are laid and gradually covered in down, the eggs are then incubated by the female for approximately 25 days.

Lets hope that someday New Zealand's other native teal species will follow in the same footsteps as the grey teal, and the oxidation ponds here in Christchurch will be teaming with South Island brown teal!!!

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