The most abundant and widespread duck in Australia (2), the grey teal (Anas gracilis) is named for its rather drab greyish to greyish-brown plumage. A small, slender duck species, it has a relatively large head, a short, slim neck, distinctive red eyes and a slender, blackish-grey bill (2) (3) (4) (5).
The male and female grey teal are similar in appearance, although the female is usually slightly smaller and paler (2) (3) (4) (5). Both sexes have pale edges to most of the body feathers, giving an indistinct scaly or mottled patterning, while the head is faintly streaked and is slightly darker on the crown and the back of the neck. The grey teal’s cheeks, chin and throat are a paler creamy white (2) (3) (5), and its breast appears spotty (2).
The grey teal has an iridescent bronze-green and black speculum on the upperwing, bordered in front by a broad white band (2), while conspicuous white ‘armpits’ are visible on the dark underwings during flight. The grey teal’s legs and feet are dull blackish-grey (2) (3) (5). Adult grey teals do not show any seasonal differences in their plumage (2) (4). Juvenile grey teals are paler than the adults (3) (5), with reduced green on the speculum (3) and a brown rather than red eye (2). Grey teal ducklings are grey-brown above and whitish below, with a dark stripe through the eye and a small dark patch over the ear (2).
The male and female grey teal are most easily told apart by their vocalisations. The male grey teal gives a variety of calls, including a clear, whistled ‘burp’ call and a low ‘preep’ or ‘prip’. In contrast, the female grey teal typically gives a loud, high-pitched, ‘laughing’ series of quacks (2) (3) (5).
Although previously treated as a subspecies of the Sunda teal (Anas gibberifrons) (3) (5), the grey teal is now considered to be a distinct species (6).
- Also known as
- Australasian gray teal, Australasian grey teal, Australian gray teal, Australian grey teal, gray teal, slender teal, wood teal.
- Anas gibberifrons gracilis.
- Length: 37 - 47 cm (2)
- Wingspan: 60 - 67 cm (3) (4)
- Male weight: 395 - 670 g (2)
- Female weight: 350 - 602 g (2)
Grey teal biology
A sociable species, the grey teal is usually seen in small groups, although large flocks also occur (2) (4) (5). During the breeding season, this species more commonly feeds in pairs or family groups (2).
The grey teal feeds mainly on plant material, particularly seeds (7), but also takes some aquatic invertebrates, including snails, insects and crustaceans (4) (7). This small duck typically feeds by dabbling at the water’s surface or in soft mud, sometimes upending in shallow water and occasionally diving. The grey teal’s flight is described as fast and agile (2) (5).
The breeding season of the grey teal varies over its large range. In areas with regular rainfall, breeding usually takes place in late winter and spring (5), whereas in areas of irregular rainfall the grey teal may breed opportunistically after rains (4) (5). In New Zealand, the grey teal is reported to breed between September and November (2).
The grey teal usually builds its nest either on the ground or in a cavity in a tree located along a watercourse or in a flooded area (2) (4). Nest material is not normally added, but the nest may be lined with down feathers (2). The female grey teal lays between 4 and 17 creamy-white eggs (2), with 7 to 8 being usual (4). The eggs are incubated by the female for about 25 to 31 days (4), with the male guarding the nest site during this time, and both adults tend to the chicks (2).
Young grey teals become capable of flight at about 55 days old (2) (4), but may continue to associate with the adults for some weeks afterwards (2). The adults often lay a second clutch at this time, commonly rearing two broods each season. Both male and female grey teals reach sexual maturity within their first year of life (2) (4), and this species is likely to form long-term monogamous pair bonds (2).
Grey teal range
The grey teal occurs in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and on other neighbouring islands, including New Caledonia (3) (5) (6).
Although resident across most of Australia, the grey teal is highly nomadic, moving about in response to rainfall. After particularly favourable conditions, its numbers can greatly increase and it often disperses to nearby regions, including Indonesia, the Moluccas and even sub-Antarctic and oceanic islands (2) (3) (5). Such an event in 1957 to 1958 is likely to have led to this species becoming established in New Zealand, where it was previously much less common (2) (5).
A separate population of grey teals on Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands is now believed to be extinct (2) (3) (5) (6).
Species with a similar range
Grey teal habitat
This small duck inhabits a wide variety of freshwater, brackish and saline wetlands, including swamps, lakes, marshes, temporary floodwaters, coastal lagoons, estuaries, rivers and pools (2) (3) (4) (5). The grey teal also inhabits irrigation channels, sewage ponds and other artificial wetlands (4).
The grey teal often responds opportunistically to wetland areas being filled by rains or floodwaters. It appears to prefer inland habitats, typically those with shallow, productive waters, but may also use coastal regions and estuaries during drier periods (4).
Species found in a similar habitat
Grey teal status
The grey teal is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Grey teal threats
The grey teal is widespread and abundant, and is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (6). However, although it has increased in New Zealand, this species is believed to be in decline in other areas, such as in eastern Australia (2).
Although the potential threats to the grey teal are not clear, it is a major game species in many parts of Australia, and is regularly hunted (2) (3). However, it is also able to adapt to a range of different wetland habitats and to move long distances if necessary (3).
The grey teal population on the Solomon Islands is believed to have become extinct following mining activities and the introduction of large, predatory Tilapia fish into its only freshwater lake (2) (5).
Grey teal conservation
The grey teal is protected from hunting in New Zealand, although small numbers are shot accidentally. It has also benefitted from nest box schemes there (2). There are not known to be any other specific conservation measures currently in place for this common duck species.
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- Slightly salty water, usually a mixture of salt and freshwater, such as that found in estuaries.
- Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
- In birds, a distinct patch of brightly coloured feathers, often iridescent or metallic in appearance, found on the secondary feathers of the wing (the shorter flight feathers along the inner edge of the wing).
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (October, 2012)
Kear, J. (2005) Ducks, Geese and Swans. Volume 2: Species Accounts (Cairina to Mergus). Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Ogilvie, M.A. and Young, S. (2002) Wildfowl of the World. New Holland Publishers, London.
Rogers, K. and Ralph, T.J. (2011) Floodplain Wetland Biota in the Murray-Darling Basin: Water and Habitat Requirements. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Madge, S. and Burn, H. (1988) Wildfowl. Christopher Helm Publishers, London.
BirdLife International - Grey teal (October, 2012)
Goodrick, G.N. (1979) Food of the black duck and grey teal in coastal northern New South Wales. Australian Wildlife Research, 6: 319-324.