Madagascar Teal

Description and biology

The Madagascar teal is a small duck of about 16 inches (40 centimeters) in length, weighing about 1 pound (450 grams). The plumage (covering of feathers) is brownish gray, and there is a black–and–white band on each wing. The feathers under the wing are gray with white edges. The Madagascar teal has a long neck, large eyes, and a light red bill.

The Madagascar teal is found in either fresh or salt water where there is abundant plant life and rich mud. Like all teals, it is a “dabbler” (rather than a diver); it feeds while wading in shallow waters less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) deep by sifting through the water and mud for invertebrate (lacking spinal column) animals and some water plant seeds.

The teal sifts for food throughout the day and night, but prefers the morning and evening hours. It walks well on land and has wings large enough to fly very slowly.

Madagascar teals are monogamous: once a male and female mate, they stay together for life. Breeding takes place from December to March, the rainy season in Madagascar. The male and female build a nest, usually in a hole in a mangrove tree trunk.

They are territorial and will defend their territory against other teals. The female produces about six eggs and incubates them (sits on them to keep them warm) for about a month. The male watches over the female carefully while she is tending the eggs.

The ducklings are well developed when they hatch, covered in soft down and able to move about and eat by themselves. Within about six weeks from hatching they will be able to fly. When not breeding, groups of teals form small flocks. The female Madagascar teal makes a quacking call; the male makes a whistling sound.

Habitat and current distribution

The Madagascar teal lives in very limited areas of the coastal wetlands of western Madagascar, an island nation off the southeast coast of Africa. The total population is estimated to be between 500 and 1,000 birds and is declining.

History and conservation measures

Before humans arrived on Madagascar 2,000 years ago, there is evidence that the Madagascar teal had a much greater range throughout the island. The species was first discovered in 1860 (when it became known as Bernier’s teal), but none were observed for nearly a century and the species was virtually forgotten.

Then, in 1969, the species was “discovered” again. Still, little was known about this teal. In 1992, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust began extensive research on the species, finding that the population had dipped drastically.

A growing population of humans in Madagascar throughout the breeding range of the teal has caused extensive habitat loss. In particular, most of the shallow muddy waters that these ducks require for feeding have been converted into rice fields. The mangrove trees in which the teals build their nests have been cleared for timber and agricultural uses.

The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust moved quickly in the 1990s to initiate a breeding–in–captivity program, which has been highly successful. The organization has also been responsible for shedding light on the habits and habitat requirements of this previously little–known species and for educating local people living within the teal’s habitat areas about the plight of the Madagascar teal.