The Chestnut Teal is January's Bird of the Month.
The Chestnut Teal is a small dabbling duck, the more distinctive of the two species of Teal duck found in the Parklands. The male, particularly during the breeding season, puts on a vivid display of colour. It has a glossy green head with red eyes, dark brown along the back and wings to the tail, and rich chestnut brown along the throat, breast and flanks, speckled with darker brown. The under tail of the body is black, separated from its chestnut flanks by a vivid patch of white. Outside the breeding season the male’s head loses its glossy appearance and the body colours become dull.
The female and immature Chestnut Teal have a similar scalloped grey-brown plumage as their Grey Teal cousins, but have darker colour down the face, chin and throat and may appear darker overall. They are less commonly seen in the ponds and are more easily identified in comparison after a nearby male has been discovered.
Chestnut Teals differ from their Grey Teal cousins not only in the plumage of the male, but in their more sedentary nature. They do not display the migratory prowess which has spread the Grey Teal across Australia in search of new and temporarily fertile breeding grounds.
While they can be found on rivers, lakes and wetlands away from the coast they are one of our most commonly seen ducks on coastal estuaries and lagoons. In times of drought the inland populations may migrate to the more hospitable coastal regions.
They are found through south-eastern Australia from central Queensland southward, with populations increasing through New South Wales to Victoria and Tasmania and across to west of Adelaide in South Australia. South-western Western Australia provides its own stronghold for the species.
The Chestnut Teal has a varied diet, from vegetation and seeds to insects, snails and crustaceans, both in fresh and salt water. They forage usually in shallow water, filtering food from the surface or upending to search through bottom sediments. In coastal habitats they will follow the tide as it rises and falls to take advantage of what is being made accessible.
The Chestnut Teals’ preference for the coast leads to a more stable breeding season from late winter through to late summer, often having repeat nesting. They form monogamous pairs and together choose a suitable nest site, preferably in a tree hollow over water, or a shallow scrape hidden in long grass or among rocks close to water. They are happy to use nesting boxes when available.
While the male remains nearby to defend the nesting territory, the female alone incubates the eggs which she protects with a thick blanket of her breast down. Seven to ten eggs are laid, but occasionally another female will lay her eggs in the nest, leading to some large clutches at hatching. Incubation takes about 27 days, and the hatched ducklings are almost immediately ready to swim, leaving the nest within 24 hours and being cared for by both adults. The ducklings are very exposed to predation by eels and large fish, birds such as Herons, Swamphens and Ravens, as well as foxes and cats.
In the Park:
A male Chestnut Teal in full breeding plumage, illuminated by sunlight, is one of the more stunning sights to be seen on the park ponds. While usually only in small numbers, they can be found in ponds throughout the park, often mixing with Grey Teal and the larger Pacific Black Ducks. Once a male has been sighted the challenge is to then determine how many females are present among the nearby Grey Teal.
Photo Credit: Tony Spira