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Discover the Fascinating World of Brown Teal: Identification Conservation and Behavior

Brown Teal, also known as Anas chlorotis, is a bird species that belongs to the genus Anas. It is a small dabbling duck that is endemic to New Zealand.

In this article, we will explore the identification, similar species, plumages and molts of this fascinating bird species.


Field Identification

The Brown Teal is easy to spot in the wild, given its unique physical characteristics. It is a small-sized duck with a grey-brown plumage and a distinctive green patch on the wings.

Males are slightly larger than females and have a more prominent green patch on their wings. Both males and females have orange feet and bills.

They have a distinctively rounded head, short neck, and small body length of 45cm.

Similar Species

The Brown Teal can be easily confused with other duck species, especially those that share similar physical attributes, such as the mallard. To differentiate between the Brown Teal and other duck species, note the distinctive green wings that are unique to the Brown Teal.

The females of the Grey Teal and the Chestnut Teal also have a green patch on their wings, but they have a different shade of brown on their plumage. Furthermore, the Grey Teal has a larger body size, while the Chestnut Teal has a longer neck.


The Brown Teal has two distinct plumages, the breeding plumage, and the non-breeding plumage. In general, the breeding males have more vivid colors than the females, with an iridescent green head and a chestnut-brown breast and flanks.

The breeding females have a reddish-brown plumage with a green patch on their wings. During the non-breeding period, both males and females have similar features, with a grey-brown plumage on their head, back and wings.

They also lose their colorful green wings, and the bill and feet become greyer.


Molts occur annually in most birds, including the Brown Teal. The molt process is essential for the birds to replace their old and worn-out feathers with new ones to maintain their insulating properties.

The Brown Teal undergoes a pre-basic molt or eclipse in summer, which is at the same time as the breeding season. During this period, the males lose their distinctive green head feathers and instead have brown feathers.

After this molt, the males are less conspicuous and blend in more with their surroundings.


Brown Teal is a fascinating bird species that is endemic to New Zealand. It is a small dabbling duck that has a grey-brown plumage with a green patch on the wings.

The males are slightly larger than the females and have more vivid colors. During the breeding season, the males have green heads and chestnut-brown breasts and flanks, while the females have reddish-brown plumage with a green patch on their wings.

The Brown Teal undergoes an annual molt process, which occurs in the summer, and is essential for the birds to replace their old and worn-out feathers with new ones to maintain their insulating properties. Being aware of the identification, plumages, and molts of the Brown Teal will help bird watchers to differentiate between other duck species and appreciate this unique bird species.

Systematics History

The systematic history of Brown Teal, also known as Anas chlorotis, dates back to the 1800s. The bird was first described in 1829 by Temminck and Schlegel, who differentiated it from the mallard duck.

The early systematic work on the Brown Teal was based solely on morphology, such as the size, shape, and color of the bird. Later, as more molecular tools became available, genetic studies helped to further refine the classification of the Brown Teal.

Geographic Variation

The geographic variation in the Brown Teal is limited due to its restricted distribution. The bird is found exclusively in New Zealand’s North, South, and Stewart Islands and has not been introduced to any other part of the world.

Due to its isolation, the bird has not developed any significant geographic variation. However, minor differences in plumage intensity and size have been observed in different populations.


The Brown Teal has two recognized subspecies, the North Island Brown Teal (Anas chlorotis aquilonium) and the South Island Brown Teal (Anas chlorotis chlorotis). The North Island Brown Teal is typically smaller in size and has a more extensive green patch on its wings than the South Island Brown Teal.

The South Island Brown Teal has a more extended tail and a brighter reddish-brown plumage than the North Island Brown Teal.

Related Species

The Brown Teal belongs to the family Anatidae, which consists of ducks, geese, and swans. The genus Anas contains about 49 duck species, including the Mallard, Teal, Pintail, and Shoveler.

The Brown Teal is one of the few dabbling ducks found in New Zealand and is closely related to the Australian and Pacific Island Teal.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The distribution of the Brown Teal has changed significantly over the past few centuries. The bird was once widespread across New Zealand’s North and South Islands, including the Chatham Islands.

However, the introduction of predators, such as rats, stoats, weasels, and feral cats, caused a significant decline in the bird’s population. The introduction of humans also contributed to the decline of the Brown Teal, particularly through habitat destruction and hunting.

By the early 1900s, the Brown Teal population had declined to a few thousand individuals, and the bird was on the verge of extinction. In response to this threat, conservation measures were put in place, and the bird’s population began to recover slowly.

In the 1980s, a comprehensive recovery program was initiated, which included habitat restoration, predator control, and captive breeding. The recovery program has been successful, and the Brown Teal population has increased to around 3500 individuals.

Today, the Brown Teal is still considered a vulnerable species, and conservation efforts remain ongoing. The North Island Brown Teal is listed as “At Risk,” while the South Island Brown Teal is classified as “Nationally Critical.” The conservation efforts put in place have helped to preserve and protect the Brown Teal habitat, not only in New Zealand but also in other parts of the world.


The Brown Teal has a fascinating systematic history that dates back to the 1800s. Its classification has been refined through morphological and genetic studies, and the bird is related to other Anas species, including the Mallard, Pintail, and Shoveler.

The Brown Teal has not developed significant geographic variations due to its restricted distribution, with only two recognized subspecies. The Brown Teal’s population has been significantly affected by the introduction of predators and habitat loss, leading to a sharp decline in their population.

However, conservation efforts have helped to reverse this trend, and the population of the Brown Teal has been steadily recovering. The bird’s vulnerability and critical conservation status highlight the need for continued conservation efforts.

Ultimately, the success of these conservation efforts will determine the Brown Teal’s future survival.


The Brown Teal is a territorial bird species that is primarily found in freshwater wetlands, swamps, ponds, streams, rivers, and estuaries. The bird prefers habitats with emergent vegetation, such as raupo, rushes, sedges, and ferns.

The Brown Teal habitat is characterized by shallow water, abundant aquatic plant life, and high-quality insects and invertebrate prey. In New Zealand’s North Island, Brown Teal habitats are located in the non-volcanic regions of the island.

They are commonly associated with wetlands such as peat bogs, lakes, and ponds. In the South Island, however, Brown Teals are found in rivers, natural wetlands, and ponds.

The bird prefers habitats where water levels can fluctuate seasonally, such as wet grasslands and eutrophic lakes. The bird avoids habitats with exposed sandbars, especially during the breeding season.

Movements and Migration

The Brown Teal is a non-migratory bird species that does not undertake extensive movements. However, young Brown Teals are known to disperse from their natal territories to new areas.

The Brown Teal’s movements are mainly driven by food availability and habitat quality. In response to changes in water levels, the Brown Teal may move within its breeding territories, searching for areas with better food availability and nesting sites.

The birds have been observed to forage up to two kilometers away from their nesting area, but they usually return to the same area to breed the following year. The movements of the Brown Teal are also influenced by the availability of predators, such as stoats, weasels, and rats.

In areas where predator control measures have been implemented, Brown Teals have been observed to venture farther away from their territories and expand their range. Migration is not a significant factor for the Brown Teal, as they are adapted to local conditions and have sufficient resources available throughout the year.

However, during severe droughts, the Brown Teal may move to new habitats, seeking access to suitable water resources.

Conservation Implications

Habitat loss and degradation, along with introduced predators, have caused a significant decline in the Brown Teal population. The bird is classified as “vulnerable” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and its conservation status in New Zealand is “nationally critical.” The recovery of the Brown Teal population has been ongoing for several decades, and there have been significant improvements, primarily due to the implementation of conservation measures.

To conserve Brown Teal habitats, wetland restoration, and pest control measures, such as the fencing of wetland reserves and predator control, have been implemented. In some areas, the Brown Teal populations have been artificially enhanced through captive breeding and release programs.

The Brown Teal’s limited movements and dispersal suggest that habitat fragmentation may have significant consequences for the bird’s population growth and survival. Maintaining connectivity between wetland habitats and reducing habitat fragmentation are critical management strategies that can help ensure the continued survival of the Brown Teal.


The Brown Teal is a non-migratory bird species that is adapted to the local conditions of freshwater habitats in New Zealand’s North and South Islands. The bird’s movements are mainly influenced by food availability, habitat quality, and predator pressure.

Although the Brown Teal does not undertake extensive migrations, changes in water levels, droughts, and habitat fragmentation pose significant risks to the bird’s population growth and survival. Consequently, it is crucial for conservationists to implement measures that enhance connectivity between wetland habitats, reduce habitat fragmentation, and control predator populations to ensure the continued survival of the Brown Teal.

Diet and Foraging


The Brown Teal is a dabbling duck that feeds on a variety of invertebrates and plant materials. The bird typically feeds by dabbling its bill on the surface or diving down to grab food items.

The Brown Teal has a unique foraging behavior compared to other dabbling ducks, as it feeds by sifting fine prey material from aquatic vegetation rather than by filtering water through its bill.


The Brown Teal is opportunistic in its feeding habits and will consume a variety of invertebrates, such as crustaceans, insects, worms, and snails, as well as protozoa and algae. The bird’s diet also includes a range of plant materials, such as seeds, leaves, roots, and rhizomes.

The Brown Teal has a unique preference for insects, and this forms a significant portion of its diet, especially during the breeding season. The bird’s reliance on insect prey intensifies during periods when natural plant food is limited.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Brown Teal has a unique physiological adaptation that allows it to regulate its body temperature irrespective of the environmental temperature. The bird has a high metabolic rate and is capable of maintaining a relatively constant body temperature even when exposed to cold temperatures.

This adaptive trait is especially crucial during the colder months when the bird’s metabolic rate must be maintained to support thermoregulation.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Brown Teal has a calm and peaceful demeanor, and vocalizes occasionally, usually during the nesting season. The male produces a nasal, whistling call, which is described as a nasal “bayen,” while the female produces a less distinct and lower-pitched “cahill” call.

The male’s call is usually performed during courtship, and the frequency and pitch of the call vary depending on the context. During nesting, the female Brown Teal’s call is often used to communicate with the male, often during feeding or as a contact call between mates.

The Brown Teal is not known for its complex vocalizations, and its limited vocalizations are typical for a dabbling duck species. Vocalizations play a crucial role in communication and the establishment of social bonds between members of the same species.

Conservation Implications

The Brown Teal’s diet and foraging behavior are linked to habitat availability and quality. Wetland conservation efforts are critical in preserving aquatic plant life and insect populations, which are essential components of the Brown Teal’s diet.

The bird’s unique foraging technique and reliance on insects emphasize the need to maintain high-quality habitats that support insect populations as natural prey sources. The Brown Teal’s unique physiological adaptation to thermoregulation underscores the importance of protecting the bird’s habitat in a changing climate.

Increasingly, habitat fragmentation and loss, particularly in lowland areas, are posing significant threats to the Brown Teal’s population growth and survival. The Brown Teal’s limited vocalizations suggest that communication and social bonds are not a significant factor in its survival and conservation.

However, understanding the bird’s vocal behaviors is essential in studying its reproductive behavior and mating strategies, which could aid in developing conservation programs.


The Brown Teal’s diet is opportunistic, and the bird prefers to feed on invertebrates, with insects forming a significant portion of its diet. The bird’s unique foraging technique involves sifting fine prey materials from aquatic vegetation.

The Brown Teal’s physiological adaptation to thermoregulation facilitates its survival in cold temperatures. The bird’s vocalizations are limited, and vocal communication plays a less crucial role in its survival and conservation.

However, understanding the Brown Teal’s vocal behavior is vital in studying its reproductive behavior and mating strategies. Conservation efforts aimed at preserving wetlands and controlling predators are critical for maintaining the Brown Teal’s population growth and survival.



The Brown Teal is a dabbling duck that typically walks or swims on the surface of the water. It is a poorly adapted bird for flying as its wings are small in proportion to its body, and it is not a strong flier.

It tends to fly in a low, fast, and erratic pattern with rapid wingbeats. When in flight, the Brown Teal produces a distinctive whistling call which arises from the movement of air over its wings.


The Brown Teal engages in self-maintenance activities that involve preening, cleaning and conditioning feathers, and bathing. The bird frequently preens its feathers to maintain insulation and waterproofing.

It may also take dust baths to remove excess oil and dirt from the feathers.

Agonistic Behavior

Agonistic behavior in the Brown Teal is expressed mainly through aggression during the breeding season. The males defend their territories vigorously and may engage in physical combat with rival males.

The Brown Teal’s aggressive behavior is most evident in the height of the breeding season when food is more abundant.

Sexual Behavior

The Brown Teal is monogamous and forms long-term pair bonds. The breeding season usually occurs between August and December.

During the breeding season, the male Brown Teal engages in courtship displays, where he drapes his wing over the ground and bobs his head. The male also produces whistling calls to attract the female.


The Brown Teal’s breeding cycle begins with the formation of pair bonds between males and females. The pair bond lasts for several breeding seasons and is essential for mate and territory defense.

The breeding process is instigated by a number of environmental factors, such as the availability of water and food resources. The female builds the nest in dense vegetation, usually near the edge of a water body.

The nest is a shallow scrape with a lining of grasses and feathers. The average clutch size of the Brown Teal is around six to eight eggs.

The eggs have a dull white or creamy-brown color. The incubation period is relatively long, around 28-30 days, and both parents take part in incubation.

The chicks are born precocial and are capable of swimming and feeding themselves shortly after hatching.

Demography and Populations

The Brown Teal is listed as a “vulnerable” bird species on the IUCN Red List. The main threats to the bird’s population are habitat degradation, hunting, and the introduction of mammalian predators, such as rats, stoats, and cats.

The Brown Teal population has slowly but steadily recovered over the decades through conservation initiatives. However, future population growth and continued conservation efforts are dependent on maintaining high-quality habitat and effective predator control measures.

The management of wetlands and waterways is crucial for the survival of the Brown Teal, given the bird’s reliance on aquatic plant life and insect populations. The Brown Teal’s conservation status in New Zealand is “nationally critical.” Its total population is estimated to be around 3,500 individuals, and the

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