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Home > New Zealand ecology > Teal > Grey teal       


The grey teal Anas gracilis, is a dabbling duck belonging to the Anatidae family of waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans), of the Anseriformes order.

The grey teal is a fairly recent arrival, migrating naturally from Australia in the mid-19th century, and is now more widespread throughout New Zealand than the other three teal species.

It is more closely related to the Australian chestnut teal Anas castanea, which migrates but does not breed in New Zealand.

Grey teal Anas gracilis, Mangere, Auckland, 1972.
Photo Rod Morris, Crown Copyright © Department of Conservation.
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The related Campbell Island teal Anas nesiotis and the Auckland Island teal Anas aucklandica which have the same white eye ring as brown teal, have been isolated in New Zealand for a much longer time, and subsequently became flightless and semi-nocturnal.

The name brown teal was previously applied to Anas aucklandica that incorporated three subspecies, brown teal. Campbell Island teal, and Auckland Island teal, before it was split into three species.

The white eye rings of the three original New Zealand teal species distinguish them from the Australian grey teal and chestnut teal.

Anas chlorotis is listed as 'critically endangered' on the IUCN 2005 Red List of Threatened Species.

Above: A pair of Grey teal Anas chlorotis at their nest, National Wildlife Centre, Mt Bruce.  Photo Mike Aviss, Crown Copyright © Department of Conservation.

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North Island brown teal
Anas chlorotis 'North Island'

The main group of 600 birds of the North Island subspecies is on Great Barrier Island, and there are small groups at two Northland locations totalling 300 birds. Small groups are on the protected and pest-free Kapiti and Mana Island, and there has been a recent translocation to Tiritiri Matangi Islands.

The North Island subspecies is threatened, listed as 'at risk-recovering' on the 2009 New Zealand Threat Classification System, after being downgraded from the 2005 listing of 'nationally critical'.

The threat ranking of 'A' is because of the total population of 1,000, and a population increase of less than 10 percent. The qualifiers are that it is conservation dependent, is likely to be moved to a higher threat category if current management is stopped, and it is range restricted.

Habitat destruction, introduced predators and over-harvesting have caused koura populations to decline (Department of Conservation)

South Island brown teal
Anas chlorotis 'South Island'

A small population of the South Island subspecies of brown teal survive in Fiordland.

Fossil records from 16 South Island archeoplogical sites show that brown teal once occupied a wider range than that of any other New Zealand anatid.  Habitats were as diverse as coastal dunes, lagoons, lakes, waterways, kahikatea swamp forests, wet rimu forests and matai forests.

The areas occupied ranged from Stewart Island marine habitat without freshwater, to silver beech and dry mountain beech forests up to an altitude of 800m.

Anas chlorotis 'South Island' remains critically endangered with a listing of 'nationally critical' on the 2009 New Zealand Threat Classification System.  It shares this critical status with Campbell Island teal and grey duck Anas superciliosa superciliosa

The criteria for the South Island brown teal's 'A' threat ranking is less than 250 mature individuals, or less than 2 subpopulations and less than 200 mature individuals in the largest sub-population, or a total area of occupancy less than 1 ha.

Campbell Island teal are rarely seen as they are nocturnal. They make up for their inability to fly, by running very fast as a means of escape at the first sign of any disturbance.

Brown teal were the most abundant native waterfowl .....

Brown teal have been recorded from 11 North Island archeoplogical sites.

The frequency of anatids in fossil records from 28 sites throughout the North, South and Stewart Islands are an indication that brown teal was the second-most abundant waterfowl species to the extinct, flightless Finsch's duck.

A total of 1028 Finsch's duck, 641 brown teal, 390 grey duck, 348 grey teal, 193 scaup, 29 blue duck, and 26 merganser fossils have been recorded at archeological sites [Worthy, 2002].

At the most prolific fossil site, Lake Poukawa in Hawkes Bay, 421 brown teal fossils were found, exceeding all other anatid fossils found at the site. There were 355 grey duck, 338 grey teal, 165 scaup, 46 Finsch's duck, and 2 merganser fossils.

Anatids are relatively abundant in fossil sites in the Waitomo karst and brown teal is the most abundant species overall [Worthy, 2002]. The Waitomo karst area is centered on the Waitomo caves, and lies between the Awakino and Waikato Rivers.

Data from F1c cave show changes in relative frequency of brown teal and Finsch's duck [Worthy, 2002]. In the period 1500-2000 years ago, brown teal were three times as abundant as Finsch's duck, whereas 12,000 years ago, there were three Finsch's duck to only one brown teal.


Worthy, T.H., 2002: Fossil distribution of brown teal (Anas chlorotis) in New Zealand. DOC Science Internal Series 81. Department of Conservation, Wellington. 29p

Brown teal were three times more abundant than FInsch's duck 1500 to 2000 years ago.

Two releases on Codfish Island of a total of 24 captive bred birds in 1999 and 2000 had an 88 percent rate of survival. With this success, DoC decided to translocate Mount Bruce bred birds directly to Campbell Island.

Fifty teal, including 28 from Pukaha Mount Bruce and 22 from Codfish Island were released onto Campbell Island in September 2004. Tracking in early 2005 confirmed 35 of the 50 birds to be alive.

In April 2005 there were 51 teal at Pukaka Mount Bruce after 20 ducklings hatched during the season. Translocations of 55 birds to Campbell Island in the spring of 2005, and another 54 in 2006 to different sites on the island, successfully completed the recovery program.

In March of 2006 new nests and ducklings confirmed a prosperous future for the world's rarest duck, and for a revived avifauna on Campbell Island.

A tiny population of Campbell Island snipe was discovered in 1997, during a search for teal on the 19 hectare Jacquemart Island rock stack. After rat eradication, snipe have returned to the main island naturally, with 30 birds found in 2006.

The future of Campbell Island's land birds is still subjected to keeping the island rat-free.