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Discover the Fascinating World of Bernier’s Teal: Plumage Behaviors and Conservation

Bernier’s teal, Anas bernieri, is a small, brightly colored duck species that is found exclusively on the island of Madagascar. It is known for its striking plumage and distinctive habits, and it is a prized sighting for birdwatchers around the world.

In this article, we will explore the identification, field characteristics, and molting patterns of this fascinating bird.

Field Identification

If you are lucky enough to encounter a Bernier’s teal in the wild, there are a few key characteristics you can look for to make a positive identification. Firstly, the bird is small, measuring between 32-36 cm in length.

It has a distinctive, yellowish-green bill that is relatively short, and a light-colored stripe above its eyes. The body is predominantly brown, and the wings have striking, iridescent green patches.

One of the most distinctive features of the Bernier’s teal is its behavior. Unlike many duck species, it is not typically seen swimming in open water.

Instead, it can often be found wading in shallower parts of rivers and streams, or even on small, rocky islands. This makes it a unique and memorable sight for those who are lucky enough to see it in the wild.

Similar Species

There are a few other duck species that resemble the Bernier’s teal, and it is important to be able to distinguish between them in order to make a positive identification. The Madagascar teal, for example, is a similar size and shape, but has a relatively longer bill and a slightly more olive-brown coloration.

The blue-winged teal, which is found in much of North America, also has green patches on its wings, but they are a more subdued color, and the bird has a distinct blue-gray head.


Like all ducks, Bernier’s teal go through a series of molts throughout their lives. These molts can change the bird’s plumage significantly, and it is important to be able to recognize the different stages in order to accurately identify the species.

The first plumage is the juvenile plumage, which the bird will have until it is around one year old. At this stage, the bird is predominantly brown, with a mottled appearance and pale, buff-colored streaks on its head and neck.

The second plumage is the first basic plumage, which the bird will acquire in its second year of life. This plumage is more colorful than the juvenile plumage, with a striking green patch on its wings and brighter, more defined markings on its head and neck.

The third plumage is the alternate plumage, which the bird will adopt during breeding season. This is the most striking plumage of all, with a brilliant green head and neck, and a vivid red eye.

The wings retain their green patches, and the body is a beautiful chestnut brown. The final plumage is the second basic plumage, which the bird will adopt once the breeding season is over.

This plumage is similar to the first basic plumage, but the markings are typically more faded and less distinct.


In conclusion, Bernier’s teal is a beautiful and unique bird species that is well worth seeking out if you are a bird enthusiast. Its small size and distinctive behavior make it a memorable sighting, and its striking plumage is sure to catch the eye.

By learning to identify the different plumages and distinctive field characteristics of this species, you can enhance your birdwatching experience even further.

Systematics History

The study of the systematics of birds has a long, rich history, with researchers and enthusiasts from around the world contributing to our understanding of the various species and their relationships. Over time, advances in technology and new discoveries have led to refinements in our understanding of different bird species, including the Bernier’s teal.

Geographic Variation

One of the ways in which different bird species can vary is geographically, with different populations of a species adapting to their unique environmental conditions. Understanding these geographic variations can be useful to researchers and birdwatchers alike, as it can help to identify different subspecies and even shed light on the evolutionary history of a species.


There are two recognized subspecies of the Bernier’s teal: Anas bernieri bernieri and Anas bernieri hotessierii. The former is found in the western and northern regions of Madagascar, while the latter is found in the southern and eastern regions.

The two subspecies are relatively similar in appearance, with subtle differences in coloration and pattern. Anas bernieri bernieri can be distinguished from Anas bernieri hotessierii by its greener head and neck, as well as the slightly broader white stripe above its eyes.

Anas bernieri hotessierii, on the other hand, has a more brownish head and neck, with a slightly narrower white stripe above its eyes.

Related Species

The Bernier’s teal is part of the Anatidae family of birds, which includes ducks, geese, and swans. Within this family, it is part of the genus Anas, which includes many other duck species from around the world.

The closest living relative of the Bernier’s teal is the Madagascar teal, Anas bernieri, which is found on the same island and shares many characteristics with the Bernier’s teal.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The distribution of the Bernier’s teal has undergone significant changes over time, due in part to changes in climate and habitat, as well as human activity. While the species is currently restricted to Madagascar, fossils and sub-fossil remains suggest that it may have been present on nearby islands, such as the Comoros and the Seychelles, in the past.

One of the major threats to the Bernier’s teal in recent decades has been habitat loss, as human populations on Madagascar continue to grow. Wetlands, which provide important habitat for the species, have been drained or converted for agriculture, and pollution from agricultural and industrial activities has also had a negative impact.

Efforts are underway to help protect the Bernier’s teal and its habitat, both through direct conservation measures and through education and awareness-raising campaigns. For example, the Wildlife

Conservation Society in Madagascar is involved in a number of conservation efforts, including monitoring of the Bernier’s teal and other bird species, working with local communities to promote sustainable agriculture and forestry practices, and engaging in outreach and education efforts to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands for wildlife and people.


The systematics and historical changes to the distribution of the Bernier’s teal are fascinating areas of study, shedding light on the evolution and ecology of this unique bird species. While the Bernier’s teal faces many challenges today, there is hope that through continued conservation efforts and public awareness-raising, it can be successfully protected for future generations to enjoy.


The Bernier’s teal is restricted to the island of Madagascar, where it can be found in a variety of wetland habitats. These can include relatively open habitats, such as marshes, swamps, and floodplains, as well as more closed habitats, such as forest streams and rivers.

The species is also known to frequent rice paddies and other agricultural fields, and it has been observed foraging in shallow waterways and pools.

Movement and Migration

The Bernier’s teal is a largely non-migratory bird, and most populations are thought to be sedentary, remaining in their breeding and wintering territories year-round. However, there is some evidence that the species may undertake limited local movements at certain times of year, particularly in response to changes in water availability and food resources.

One study of the species in northern Madagascar found evidence of local movements during the dry season, with some individuals moving between wetland areas in search of food and water. These movements tended to be relatively short-range, with birds moving between sites that were no more than 20 km apart.

While the Bernier’s teal is not considered a migratory species, there is some evidence that some individuals may undertake short-distance, seasonal movements. For example, one study found that some individuals in southern Madagascar moved to higher elevations during the wet season, likely in response to changes in water availability and breeding opportunities.

These movements tended to be relatively small in scale, with birds moving no more than a few kilometers from their breeding territories.


As a small, isolated bird species with a highly restricted distribution, the Bernier’s teal is considered to be at risk of extinction. Threats to the species include habitat loss and degradation, hunting, poaching, and predation by invasive species.

Efforts to conserve the species are ongoing, and a number of organizations, including the Wildlife

Conservation Society and the Rainforest Trust, are working to protect the wetland habitats on which the species relies. These efforts include habitat restoration, community education and outreach, and monitoring of the species to better understand its biology and behavior.

One of the major challenges facing conservationists is the lack of reliable data on the distribution and abundance of the Bernier’s teal. The bird is difficult to detect and observe in the wild, and many wetland areas where the species is thought to occur have not been thoroughly surveyed.

To address this, a number of organizations are working to improve our understanding of the species, including through the use of remote sensing and other advanced technologies. By building a more comprehensive picture of the distribution and ecology of the Bernier’s teal, researchers and conservationists can better target their efforts to protect this unique and valuable bird species.


The Bernier’s teal is a fascinating bird species with a unique and highly restricted distribution. While the species faces a number of threats, ongoing conservation efforts offer hope that it can be protected for future generations to enjoy.

By continuing to study the biology and behavior of this remarkable bird, and by working to protect its wetland habitat, we can help to ensure its survival and safeguard the biodiversity of Madagascar.

Diet and Foraging


The Bernier’s teal is a dabbling duck, and it feeds primarily by foraging in shallow water. The bird typically holds its head under water while feeding, searching for small aquatic invertebrates, seeds, and other plant material.

It also feeds on insects and larvae that it finds while wading in shallow water.


The diet of the Bernier’s teal can vary depending on its habitat and location, but it typically consists of a mix of small invertebrates and plant material. In wetland habitats, the bird may feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, and mollusks, as well as small fish.

It also consumes a variety of plant material, including seeds, shoots, and leaves. In agricultural areas, the species has been known to feed on rice plants and other crops, as well as insects and other invertebrates that are attracted to these plants.

While the Bernier’s teal is considered to be primarily vegetarian, it is opportunistic and will consume protein-rich animal material when it is available.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

As with all birds, the Bernier’s teal has a high metabolic rate, which allows it to maintain its internal body temperature even in cold environments. The bird is adapted to life in wetland habitats, where temperatures can fluctuate rapidly and food resources can be variable.

Its efficient metabolic system allows it to quickly process the food it consumes and maintain its energy and nutrient levels. The Bernier’s teal is also adapted to regulate its body temperature by controlling its rate of respiration and blood flow.

It is able to increase the rate of blood flow to its bill and feet in order to increase heat loss, helping to regulate its body temperature in hot environments.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Bernier’s teal is a relatively quiet bird, and it has a limited range of vocalizations. The species primarily communicates through soft, guttural calls, which it uses to communicate with its young and to maintain contact with other members of its flock.

During the breeding season, males may also produce a soft whistling call, which is thought to be used to attract a mate. This call is relatively quiet and is typically only heard when the bird is in close proximity.

Overall, the vocal behavior of the Bernier’s teal is relatively unremarkable, and it is not known for its singing or calling abilities. However, its soft, subtle calls give it a unique and understated vocal presence in its wetland habitats.



The Bernier’s teal is a waterfowl that is well-adapted for life in wetland environments. It moves primarily by swimming and wading in shallow water, using its webbed feet to propel itself forward and steer.

The bird is also capable of limited flight, and will take to the air if threatened or if it needs to move quickly between different habitats.

Self Maintenance

As with all birds, the Bernier’s teal spends a significant amount of time on self-maintenance activities, such as preening its feathers and grooming itself. These activities help to keep the bird’s feathers clean and in good condition, which in turn helps to regulate its body temperature and protect it from the elements.

Agonistic Behavior

Like many bird species, the Bernier’s teal can exhibit aggressive or aggressive posturing behaviors when it feels threatened or is competing for resources. For example, male birds may engage in chasing or aggressive posturing towards other males during the breeding season, as they compete for access to females.

Similarly, when threatened by predators or other potential threats, the bird may arch its neck and spread its wings in an attempt to intimidate the perceived threat.

Sexual Behavior

The Bernier’s teal is a monogamous species, with males and females forming pairs during the breeding season. The males will typically initiate courtship behavior by swimming close to the females and making soft, whistling calls.

If the female is receptive, the pair will begin to mate and will typically remain together for the duration of the breeding season.


The breeding season for the Bernier’s teal typically takes place between October and February, during the wet season in Madagascar. The species nests on the ground, typically near wetland habitats and often among vegetation or debris.

The female will lay a clutch of around 7-10 eggs over the course of several days, and she will then incubate the eggs for around 25-28 days. During this time, the male may forage for food and bring it back to the female to help support her while she is incubating the eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, the female and male will work together to care for the young, bringing them food and protecting them from predators. The young birds will begin to fledge around 35-40 days after hatching, at which point they will begin to swim and forage for food on their own.

Demography and Populations

The Bernier’s teal is a relatively rare and highly localized bird species, with a small and isolated population that is restricted to Madagascar. While estimates of the population size vary, the species is generally considered to be at risk of extinction due to habitat loss, hunting, and other human activities.

Conservation efforts are ongoing to protect the bird and its wetland habitats, including monitoring of populations, habitat restoration and protection, and outreach and education to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands for biodiversity and human communities. Overall, the future of the Bernier’s teal will depend on continued conservation and management efforts to protect its habitat and ensure its survival for future generations.

In summary, the Bernier’s teal is a fascinating bird species that is characterized by its unique and highly localized distribution, striking plumage, and distinctive habitat preferences. While the bird faces a number of threats to its survival, active conservation and management efforts offer hope that it can be protected and preserved for future generations.

By continuing to study and understand the many aspects of the Bernier’s teal’s behavior, ecology, and natural history, we can help to ensure that this remarkable bird species remains a vital and valued part of our planet’s rich and diverse biological heritage.

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