Nettium crecca, (Linnaeus).
Outer web of the primaries blackish; inner web drab, with a blackish tip. Axillaries white, with a brown tip. Wing under eight inches in length. Shafts of primaries brown. Greater upper wing-coverts tipped with white, the tips of the inner feathers sometimes tinged with buff. Speculum formed by two longitudinal bands, the outer black, the inner metallic green.
MALE : Crown and sides of head rich chestnut.
FEMALE: Head streaked with brown; no oval buff spot at the side of the base of the upper mandible.
VERNACULAR NAMES : — Murghabi, Chota-murghabi, Kerra, Lohya Kerra, Putari, Souchuruka, Hind. ; Kardo, Sind. ; Baigilagairi, Nepal; Naroib, Tulsia-bigri, Bengal; Killowai, Madras ; Sorlai-haki, Canarese.
The Common Teal visits almost every part of the Empire in the cold season.
The only portions from which it has not yet been recorded are the Andaman Islands, where it is probably replaced entirely by the Andaman Duck, and Tenasserim, which perhaps lies beyond its range. It is found in Ceylon. To the east it extends through the Shan States, at least as far as Kengtung, where Lieutenant J. H. Whitehead informs me that he has shot it.
The Common Teal has a most extensive range, being found in summer throughout the northern parts of Europe and Asia up to the 70th degree of north latitude, and extending into portions of North America. In winter it is found in Africa as far south as the Canary Islands on the one hand, and Abyssinia on the other. In Asia it comes south to Arabia, Persia, India, Burma, and China.
The Common Teal arrives in India from the end of September to the middle of October, and leaves again by the end of April as a rule, but many birds remain well into May. It is possible that some Teal may stay and breed in Kashmir and parts of the Himalayas, but there is no positive evidence on this point.
This Teal, in most parts of the Empire, is an extremely common bird. It occurs on almost every piece of water, whether large or small, river, pond or marsh. It is wary or tame, according to the treatment it receives. It is found in pairs and also in good-sized flocks. Immense numbers of these birds are snared in India, kept in " tealeries" and fattened for the table.
The habits of the Common Teal in India during the time it stays with us are not very different from those of the other True Ducks, and there is little to be said about them. I shall therefore proceed to quote the accounts of this bird given by two English naturalists, as they refer chiefly to the habits of this Teal in Europe during the summer.
The late Mr. Seebohm remarked :— "The Teal is no exception to the rule that the larger a bird is the more timid and wary are its actions. It is the smallest European Duck, and at the same time the tamest. It often swims in and out amongst the reeds, fearlessly allowing itself to be watched at a comparatively short distance, but once on the wing it almost rivals the Garganey in the dashing rapidity of its flight. Although it migrates far into the Arctic regions, where it arrives with the first flights of the migratory Ducks, before the rivers have been broken up into pack-ice, breeding much farther north than the Mallard, it is less courageous than the larger species in braving the storms and snows of winter. Its habits differ very little from those of its congeners ; perhaps it might be said that the Teal is more partial to small reedy ponds and less fond of visiting the mud-banks on the sea-shore than its relations; but its food is the same mixture of animal and vegetable substances. Its quack or alarm-note is very similar to that of the Garganey, and may be represented by the syllable knake; but the call-note of both sexes is a sharp krik, and in the pairing-season the drake utters a harsh grating note. It is quite as gregarious as its congeners, and sometimes on migration the flocks of Teal are very large. Like the Wigeon and the Pintail, the Teal loves to breed amongst the scattered trees in the low-lying forest swamps and on the banks of the lakes and couriers, as the little freshwater fjords of Siberia are called, up in the north near the Arctic circle. The nest is sometimes concealed amongst the rushes, often hidden in a clump of bilberries or under a willow bush. The first egg is laid early in May in North Germany, and even in the Arctic regions it loses no time, as eggs may be taken a week after the ice has broken up and before it has all marched down to the sea. . . . The Teal seldom sits more than three weeks ; but this species is said to be so little shy that the drake takes part in the care of the young until they have feathers, when he leaves them in charge of his mate whilst he retires to asume his brown moulting-dress."
I now quote some interesting notes from Mr. Stevenson's " Birds of Norfolk." " On the 13th May I saw a Teal's nest at Ranworth containing ten eggs, from which the keeper had taken two pheasant's eggs; another nest, near the same place, which was destroyed by rats, had also contained two pheasants eggs. Mr. Norgate saw a Teal's nest on the 19th April on Santon Warren, which contained eight teal's, one duck's, and several pheasant's, eggs. The old bird is very much attached to the nest, especially when near hatching. Mr. J. H. Gurney, jun., once found a nest at Hempstead, on June 13th, containing ten eggs, on which the old bird ' sat like a stone' till he almost trod on her; and a good many years ago, in Inverness-shire, I actually removed a Teal from her nest with my hand, so close did she sit. The stratagems resorted to by this pretty little Duck to draw off the attention of the intruder from its brood exhibit a charming display of maternal affection; the little ones, too, have a marvellous power of concealment. On one occasion I disturbed an old Teal which was brooding over a large family : off went the old bird, fluttering away as if in the last agonies of death, and the young scattered in all directions; but keeping my eye fixed on one particular baby Teal, I saw it squat down a few yards off, its neck stretched out and its little body close to the ground where some dead oak-leaves were lying; the concealment so perfect that had I not seen it assume the position I should most certainly never have detected it, nor did it stir from the spot till I stooped and took it up in my hand. . . . The note of the male Teal is a clear musical whistle; the voice of the female, however, although, perhaps, not inharmonious, is decidedly unmusical."
The nest of the Teal is made of decayed vegetable matter, and is lined with feathers and down. The latter is dark brown, each piece with a whitish base or centre. The eggs are eight or ten in number, generally perfect ellipses in shape, but sometimes rather more pointed at one end than at the other. They are creamy white or pale buff, and sometimes very pale greenish. They measure from 1.6 to 1.8 in length, and from 1.3 to 1.4 in breadth.
The adult male has the chin, a line bordering the bill, and a patch round the eye black. A broad, brilliant green or purple band extends from the eye backwards along the side of the neck. With the above exceptions, the head is of a rich chestnut, which colour extends halfway down the neck. A pale narrow line borders the green band on the head, both above and below, the two meeting in front of the eye, whence the line is produced in a crescentic form to the angle of the gape and round the black of the chin. The lower neck, the whole mantle, the sides of the breast and the inner scapulars are closely vermiculated with black and greyish white. The outer scapulars are rich cream-colour, broadly bordered with deep black on the outer web. The back and rump are ashy brown, with darker centres to the feathers. The upper tail-coverts and the tail-feathers are dark brown, margined with ashy. The lower plumage is creamy or fulvous white ; the breast thickly spotted with black; the sides of the body beautifully vermiculated with black; the under tail-coverts black with a creamy buff patch on each side. The under wing-coverts are brown, margined with white, and with a white patch in the middle; the axillaries are white with brownish shafts and tips. The upper wing-coverts are brown, the larger series broadly tipped with white, which is tinged with buff as the band approaches the body. The primaries are drab on the shafts and the inner webs; brown on the outer webs and the tips of the inner. The first secondary is brown, tipped with white. The following shorter secondaries are black on the outer web, the base more or less metallic green. The succeeding three or four secondaries are metallic green on the outer web. The quill immediately next the green speculum has the inner half of the outer web brown, the outer half black narrowly edged with buff. The inner and longer secondaries are brown with black shafts. The metallic portion of the speculum is green in some lights, purplish-blue in others.
The adult female has the crown and the forehead dull rufous streaked with brown; the sides of the head and the whole neck pale buff, spotted and streaked with brown; the chin and the throat very sparingly marked with brown. The mantle, back and scapulars are dark brown, with crescentic rufous bars. The rump and upper tail-coverts are dark brown, with pale rufous edgings and angular markings on the feathers. The tail is brown with pale margins. The wing is very similar to that of the male, but the deep black border to the quill next the speculum is absent, or merely indicated by a brown border. The breast, the sides of the body, and the under tail-coverts are white, with a rufous tinge, mottled and streaked with brown. The abdomen is whitish. It is to be noted that in the female the tips to the greater wing-coverts, forming a bar above the speculum, is generally entirely white, and seldom tinged with buff as in the male.
In post-nuptial plumage, according to Mr. De Winton, as quoted by Dr. Sharpe, the male is so similar to the female, that it is hardly possible to distinguish them by any certain character.*
Young birds, on moulting from the downy plumage, resemble the adult female, but have the wing-coverts with pale margins.
The sexes do not differ much in size; the male is slightly heavier.
Length about 14 1/2 ; wing 7 to 7 1/2 ; tail nearly 3. The bill is blackish; irides brown or hazel; legs and feet grey to plumbeous. Weight up to 15 oz.
According to Seebohm, however, the male, at this period, retains the black-bordered quill in the wing, next to the speculum. If this be the case, the male can, of course, be recognised at a glance.