On this cool, misty morning in central Missouri, the first tide of blue-winged teal had arrived at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, on the Missouri River floodplain. Common summer residents across much of North America, these small, attractive ducks winter along the Gulf Coast, in Central America and in northern South America.
Since most migrate long distances, blue wings are among the last species of waterfowl to arrive in the spring and among the first to depart in autumn; their numbers generally peak at Eagle Bluffs in late September and mid April. The great majority breed in the prairie pothole region of the Northern Plains (from the Dakotas into Canada) but smaller numbers nest throughout Temperate latitudes of the Continent, favoring shallow lakes and riverine wetlands.
Their appearance at Eagle Bluffs this morning is just the latest sign that spring is unfolding across the American Heartland, an erratic and uneven process that will take two months to complete. By then, these blue-winged teal, already paired off, will have settled into their summer quarters.