TEAL (O.E. tele), a variety of duck, whose name is of uncertain origin, but doubtless cognate with the Dutch Taling (formerly Talingh and Telingh), and this apparently with the Scandinavian Atteling-And (Brunnich, Ornithol. Borealis, p. 18) and Ailing. It seems impossible not to connect the latter with the Scottish Atteile or Alteal, to be found in many old records, though this last word (however it be spelt) is generally used in conjunction with teal, as if to mean a different kind of bird; and commentators have shown a marvellous ineptitude in surmising what that bird was.
The Teal is the Anas crecca of Linnaeus, Nellion crecca of modern ornithology, and the smallest of the European Anatidae, as well as one of the most abundant and highly esteemed for the table. It breeds in many parts of the British Islands, making its nest in places very like those chosen by the Wild Duck, A. boscas; but there is no doubt that by far the greater number of those that are taken in decoys, or are shot, during the autumn and winter are of foreign origin. While the female presents the usual inconspicuous mottled plumage of the same sex in most species of Anatinae, the male is one of the handsomest of his kind. His deep chestnut head and throat are diversified on either side by a line of buff, which, springing from the gape, runs upward to the eye, in front of which it forms a fork, one prong passing backward above and the other below, enclosing a dark glossy -green patch, and both losing themselves in the elongated feathers of the hind-head and nape. The back and sides of the body appear to be grey, an effect produced by delicate transverse pencillings of black on a dull white ground. The outer lanceolate scapulars have one-half of their webs pure white, forming a conspicuous stripe along the side of the back. The breast is of a pale salmon or peach-blossom colour, each feather in front bearing a roundish dark spot, but these spots lessen in number and size lower down, and the warm tint passes into white on the belly. The tail coverts above and below are velvety black, but those at the side are pale orange.
The teal inhabits almost the whole of Europe and Asia, from Iceland to Japan, in winter visiting Northern Africa and India. It occasionally occurs on the western shores of the Atlantic; but its place in North America is taken by its representative, A. carolinensis, the male of which is easily to be recognized by the absence of the upper buff line on the side of the head and of the white scapular stripe, while he presents a whitish crescentic bar on the sides of the lower neck just in front of the wings.
Species more or less allied to these two are found in most other parts of the world, and among such species are some (for instance, the N. gibberifrons of the Australian region) in which the male wears the same inconspicuous plumage as the female. But the determination of the birds which should be technically considered " Teals," and belong to the genus Netlion, as distinguished from other groups of Anatinae, is a task not yet successfully attempted, and much confusion has been caused by associating with them such species as the Garganey (<?..) and its allies of the group Querquedida. Others again have not yet been discriminated from the Wigeons (q.v.), the Pintail-Ducks, Dafila, or even from the typical form of Anas (see DUCK), into each of which genera the Teals seem to pass without any great break. In ordinary talk " Teal " seems to stand for any Ducklike bird of small size, and in that sense the word is often applied to the members of the genus Netlopus, though some systematists will have it that they are properly Geese. In the same loose sense the word is often applied to the two most beautiful of the family Anatidae, belonging to the genus Aex (commonly misspelt Aix) the Carolina Duck of North America, Ae. sponsa (not to be confounded with the above-named Anas carolinensis or Nettion carolinense) , and the Mandarin-Duck of China, Ae. galericulata. Hardly less showy than these are the two species of the subgenus Eunetla, the Falcated Duck, E.faicata, and the Baikal Teal, E. formosa, both from Eastern Asia, b.ut occasionally appearing in Europe. Some British authors have referred to the latter of these well-marked species certain Ducks that from time to time occur, but they are doubtless hybrids, though the secret of their parentage may be unknown; and in this way a so-called Bimaculated Duck, Anas bimaculata, was for many years erroneously admitted as a good species to the British list, but of late this has been properly discarded. (A. N.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)