There are two species of Teal duck found in the park, the Grey Teal (Anas gracilis) and the Chestnut Teal (Anas castanea). The Grey Teal is less glamourous than the male Chestnut Teal but is by far the most common.
The Grey Teal is grey-brown all-over, with buff edges to the brown ends of its plumage giving it a scalloped appearance. The crown of the head is streaked dark brown down to about the bottom of the eye, and the eye itself is bright red. The chin and throat are plain cream to white, and the bill is dark green. There is little difference between the sexes, with the male slightly larger and having a slightly more vivid red eye.
The outer wing has a glossy blue-green speculum along the trailing edge, bordered, top and bottom, with white. In flight, the underwing shows a large white patch. Juveniles are paler than the adults.
Grey Teal are among the most common waterbirds found throughout Australia, from the salt and brackish waters of coastal estuaries to rivers, lakes and even isolated dams in the outback. They will travel long distances to take advantage of rainfall and inland flooding. Some have found their way into New Guinea and eastern Indonesia. They have self-colonised New Zealand since the mid-twentieth century, now widespread and well established there.
Grey Teal are dabbling ducks, often seen with their tail in the air up-ended to dredge sediment below or collect food near the water surface. Their diet consists largely of aquatic plants, particularly their seeds, supplemented by insects and their larvae. During the breeding season they tend to extend their diet to aquatic snails and crustaceans. They are occasionally seen foraging on land near the water’s edge.
The breeding cycle of the Grey Teal is largely determined by rainfall and areas of shallow floodwaters providing ample nutrition. In more stable locations, such as the Parkland ponds, they tend to follow the pattern of spring and summer breeding. During times of plentiful inland rains, many abandon the park for more abundant breeding grounds, but some remain to nest by the ponds.
The Grey Teal nest is a simple tree hollow or a bowl scraped in the ground, hidden in vegetation with little attempt to construct an actual nest. Feather down is placed over the eggs to provide protection and insulation. On average, seven or eight eggs are laid in a clutch, although as many as fourteen can be laid.
The male assists the female in finding a suitable nest location and will remain nearby to defend the nesting territory, but plays no role in incubating the eggs. The female will incubate the eggs for about 25 days, taking only short breaks to feed, remaining on the eggs constantly for the final few days before hatching. The hatched ducklings will quickly leave the nest and be cared for by both parents. As the ducklings fledge, the male may take over their care while the female begins a second clutch.
In the Park:
Grey Teal can be found on ponds throughout the park but they favour shallow ponds and pond edges best suited to their feeding style, as do the Pacific Black Duck, a larger dabbling duck. Musgrave and Duck Ponds are sites where they are often found, and while some do approach humans for food, most are content to forage naturally. While most ducks in the park are seen roosting along the water’s edge, the Grey Teal is often seen roosting along tree branches over the ponds.
Image: Tony Spira