Ian’s Bird of the Week – Auckland and Campbell Islands Teal
by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter ~ 2/16/12
The almost predator-free nature of the Sub-Antarctic Islands before the Europeans and their pests arrived is well illustrated by the existence of two closely-related flightless ducks on the Auckland and Campbell Islands. The first photo shows a male Auckland Islands Teal on Enderby Island – now their main stronghold – in the Auckland Islands group.
You can see how short the wings are, extending only two thirds of the way along the body instead of to the base of the tail as in their flying relatives the Chestnut Teal of Australia and the Brown Teal of New Zealand. This male is in breeding plumage and has greenish iridescence on the head and subtly beautiful barring on the flanks.
Females (and juveniles and eclipse-plumaged males) have more subdued colours and lack the green sheen on the head. The white eye-ring of both sexes is shared with the Brown Teal of New Zealand but not the Chestnut Teal of Australia. The third photo shows another female going for a stroll. Note the slightly drooping tail and upright stance, both characteristic of the two flightless species.
As you can probably judge from the photos, the teal were very confiding showing no alarm when closely approached. I had to retreat from the male to get it in focus – the lens I was using has a minimum focus distance of 1.8m/5.9ft, not usually an issue with wild birds! The first two photos were taken on one of the few bodies of freshwater on Enderby Island. Their more usual habitat is along the coast. We saw some in sheltered pools on a rock platform and they feed mainly on invertebrates and algae found in both attached and beach-stranded seaweed.
The fourth photo shows a vocal male Campbell Islands Teal on salt water near the landing wharf of that island. It’s very similar in appearance to the Auckland Islands Teal and both species were until recently treated as races of the flight-worthy Brown Teal of mainland New Zealand. Recent studies suggest that the the Brown Teal and Sub-Antarctic Teals were the product of separate colonisation events by the Australian Chestnut Teal, which occurs in New Zealand only as a rare vagrant.
The Campbell Islands Teal was though to be extinct but a population of about 20 were rediscovered on nearby Dent Island in 1975, raising its status to Critically Endangered and the world’s rarest duck. A captive breeding program followed, leading to the establishment of a feral population on predator-free Codfish Island near Stewart Island in 1999 and 2000. Following the elimination of rats on Campbell Island, 50 birds were released there in 2005 and 55 in 2006. Successful breeding occurred in 2006. The total population, captive and wild, is now thought to be over 200 and its status has been downgraded to merely Endangered.
You can read the full story here http://terranature.org/tealcampbell_island.htm . It’s great to read a successful conservation story at a time of increasingly frequent bad news about wild populations.
Links to Ian’s Photos:
That last Teal looks happy and “bushy eyed.” They must havee happy ducks and teals down there. Must be that lack of pigs and cats!
The Teals belong to the Anatidae – Ducks, Geese & Swans Family. There are 165 species in 48 genus including the Teals, Ducks, Shovelers, Wigeons, Pintails, Swans, Geese, Pochards, Scaups, Eiders, Mergansers and all their allies. “Anatidae is the biological family of birds that includes ducks, geese and swans. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring on all the world’s continents except Antarctica and on most of the world’s islands and island groups. These are birds that can swim, float on the water surface, and in some cases dive in at least shallow water.” (Wikipedia)
And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” (Genesis 1:22 NKJV)