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Madagascar teal, Anas bernieri

Text: Charles van de Kerkhof. Photos: Jan Harteman


Published in the British Waterfowl Association magazine (December 2021)

Published in the Aviornis International magazines (Februari 2022)

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Scientific: Anas bernieri. Dutch: Madagaskartaling. French: Sarcelle de Bernier. German: Bernierente. Spanish: Cerceta Malgache



Aviornis International magazine February 2022The Madagascar teal  is the westernmost representative of the 'grey' teals. It is related to the grey teal (Anas gracilis), the chestnut teal (Anas castanea), Andaman teal (Anas albogularis) and Sunda or Indonesian teal (Anas gibberifrons). The New Zealand ‘brown’ teals (Campbell Islands teal Anas nesiotis, brown teal Anas chlorotis and the Auckland Island teal Anas aucklandica) were formerly considered close relatives.



This mangrove specialist is endemic to Madagascar and can be found on the west coast. The population is estimated between 1500 and 2500 birds, the majority of which are located in the mangrove areas between the Mangoky Delta and Antsiranana on the west coast and a small part of the population is found in the extreme northeast of the island. The Madagascar teal has a seasonal migration. They prefer shallow waters and it depends on the dry or wet season where the ideal habitat is located. They breed in the mangrove areas and as soon as the young are independent, only the parent birds leave the breeding areas which are drying up to go to various inland lakes, such as Lake Antsamaka, where they can moult safely. The absence of flight feathers prevents them from flying for about two to four weeks. After the moult, adult birds gather with juvenile birds of that year on the coast at shallow brackish water lakes, the mudflats and river estuaries. It is not clear whether the families come together at that time. The distance that these teals travel between these three locations varies from a few kilometres to as much as 400 kilometres.



The Madagascar teal is a small duck that weighs on average around 400 grams. Its plumage is a warm reddish brown in colour with a dark core on each body feather, giving it a speckled appearance up close. This teal has a clear black speculum with white tips and a white band on the secondary coverts. These black and white colours on the wings are very noticeable when this teal is flying. The non-feathered parts are pinkish grey and the eye is chestnut brown. The weight between males and females is fairly equal, the lengths of the tarsus, bill and skull are greater in drakes. In the wild, Madagascar teal are known to live for at least 10 years.


Madagascar teal male at the age of 10 years (2021)

Adult male Madagascar teal, at the age of 10 years (Jan Harteman, 2021)


Madagascar teal in flight upperwings Harteman 2020

Adult male Madagascar teal in fight, showing its upperwing (Jan Harteman, 2021)


Madagascar teal in flight underwing Harteman 2020

Adult male Madagascar teal in fight, showing its underwing (Jan Harteman, 2021)



Madagascar teal are found only in shallow fresh and brackish water, including swamps, estuaries, mudflats, small lakes and mangrove. The grey mangrove (Avicennia marina) in particular is an important breeding habitat for this teal and the current distribution of this mangrove species corresponds to the distribution of the Madagascar teal. During the western dry season, the Madagascar teal can be found on the coast, on the sandbanks, on the mudflats and in salt pans. During the rainy season, it resides in the shallow open lakes on the landward side of the mangroves. These teals avoid water plants, floating vegetation and swamp banks for most of the year. Only during the moulting period, when the birds cannot fly, do they use the vegetation in the water to hide. They prefer open shallow water, less than 20cm deep on average. Madagascar teal are often found in bird-rich saline wetlands together with greater and lesser flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus and Phoeniconaias minor) and waders such as black-winged stilts (Himantopus himantopus). They are almost never seen together with other ducks, the exceptions are roosts shared with white-faced whistling ducks (Dendrocygna viduata) on sandbanks or in mangrove trees. Madagascar teal can be found together with conspecifics during some times of the year, but they do not form close groups. These teal are always restless in the presence of several conspecifics, whereby it is remarkable that they never chase other birds away, but only their own kind.



Saline pool Lake Andio Kirindy Mitea (Glyn Young, 2004)



Mangroves Lake Andio Kirindy Mitea (Glyn Young, 2004)



Lake Ambondro Kirindy Mitea with teal (Glyn Young, 2004)



Madagascar teal nest NW of Lake Bedo (Glyn Young, 2004)



Knowledge about the diet in the wild is scarce, but it is clear that these teals eat the seeds of aquatic plants and invertebrates during the moult. Madagascar teal are often seen foraging with flamingos and waders. Chicks and juveniles dive for food, something adult birds never do.



Little information is available about breeding and rearing the young in the wild. The first nest in the wild was only described in 1997 and the first chick was described in 2004. Most of the knowledge about the breeding behaviour of Madagascar teal was gained at the Jersey Zoo. The courtship resembles that of the grey teal (Anas gracilis) and like the grey teal, both Madagascar teal parents care for the young. Nests in the wild have been found mainly in grey mangrove forests and were located 2-5 meters above the ground or 1-3 meters above the water. Six to seven eggs are laid during the rainy season (Dec-Mar) and the eggs measure on average 46mm long and 34.6mm wide. Only the females breed, but the drakes stay close to the nest for the entire breeding period. The incubation period is 26 to 27 days. After 45-49 days the young are independent after which the parents leave the drying up breeding areas to the moulting area.


Madagascar teal duckling

Madagascar teal duckling, in aviculture (Jan Harteman, 2018)


Madagascar teal family 2018

Madagascar teal family mother and ducklings, in aviculture (Jan Harteman, 2018)



Due to the difficulty in accessing the area, this species was not seen and noted by Western birdwatchers for decades. The teal was 'rediscovered' again in 1969 and was re-spotted in small numbers in a handful of locations in 1970. It was not until 1992, however, that new expeditions were carried out in search of teal. The Madagascar teal is threatened by hunting, egg collectors and habitat loss. It is listed as Endangered  by the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species. Since 2006, Madagascar teal has been protected in Madagascar and several protected areas have been established in the distribution area of ​​this teal.



Glyn Young, of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, is the person we should thank for our current knowledge about the eggs, downy ducklings, mating behaviour, nest use and parental care of Madagascar teal. He participated in many expeditions to study this teal since 1992 and, in 1993, brought Madagascar teal to the Jersey Zoo for a breeding program, wrote several articles about this duck species in the wild in Madagascar and in closed aviaries on Jersey and was awarded a PhD for studies on this species and another Madagascar duck, Meller’s duck Anas melleri.



  • Razafindrajao, F., Young, H.G., and Iahia bin Aboudou, A. (2012) Measurements and movements of Madagascar Teal Anas bernieri captured and ringed at Lake Antsamaka in central-western Madagascar. Wildfowl & Wetland Trust. Wildfowl 62: 165-175
  • Young, H.G. (1998) The Captive Breeding of the Madagascar Teal Anas bernieri at the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust. Dodo. Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust 34: 84-90
  • Young, H.G., Lewis, R., and Razafindrajao, F. (2001) A description of the nest and eggs of the Madagascar Teal Anas bernieri. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 121(1)
  • Young, H.G. (2006) Madagascar Teal Anas bernieri: the ecology and conservation of a short distance migrant. Waterbirds around the world. Eds. G.C. Boere, C.A. Galbraith & D.A. Stroud. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK. pp. 252-254.
  • Young, H.G., Razafindrajao, F., Iahia Bin Aboudou, A., Woolaver, L. and Lewis, E. (2013) Madagascar Teal Anas bernieri: A Mangrove Specialist from Madagascar’s West Coast. Mangrove Ecosystems. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.


Madagascar teal in aviculture

Introduction by Charles van de Kerkhof. Hands-on experience and photos by Jan Harteman


One female Madagascar teal made it to Europe alive in 1927 and lived in Jean Delacour's collection for nine years. However, this bird never laid eggs nor received male companionship. From 1992, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust organized expeditions to Madagascar to better understand Madagascar teal in the wild. Since 1993, a breeding program was initiated by Durrell who imported teal from Madagascar to Jersey Zoo in 1993, 1995 and 1998. This involved four males in 1993, two males and two females in 1995 and three males in 1998. In 1998 the first young hatched at Jersey Zoo.


Madagascar teal pair (male right)

An adult pair of Madagascar teal, left female, right male (Jan Harteman, 2021)


All Madagascar teals in aviculture are subject to a loan agreement with the Government of Madagascar. Since the first teals reached Jersey Zoo, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has maintained the international studbook for this species. Since 2020 the EAZA Ex-situ Program (EEP), maintained by Jersey Zoo, replaced the studbook. In the early years, several young teals were bred both in Jersey Zoo and in private collections in England. All collections to which these teals moved signed an agreement for the management and conservation of this species with the studbook keeper. Somewhere in the last twenty years one or more people have not kept to this agreement and as a result Madagascar teal have ended up in private collections, and in doing so these birds are no longer part of the studbook. At the moment we can speak of two populations in aviculture, namely birds that are managed by the studbook and a population that is kept in private collections that are not part of the studbook. Ultimately, all Madagascar teal ​​in aviculture are covered by the loan agreement with the Government of Madagascar.


Experience with Madagascar teal

These elegant and active ducks are great addition to the collection, especially when kept fully winged in a spacious aviary. They like to spend time at height in the aviary, roosting on a perch, a piece of rope or on a nest box. Their flight is very agile and fairly slow. In flight, the white wing feathers and black speculum are clearly visible. For their well-being and for our pleasure, a spacious aviary in which they can stretch their wings is therefore an absolute must.


I kept these teals in pairs in an aviary of 4 by 5 meters (2.5 m high) with two ponds of a few square meters. And together with several conspecifics, up to 3 pairs, in an aviary of approximately 12 by 15 meters (2.5 to 4 m high) with three ponds of a total of more than 60 m2. Because both sexes are alike all year round, I determine the gender by vent sexing. Then I add a split ring to each bird. This allows me to recognize individual birds that are housed in an aviary with several conspecifics and I can immediately see which individual animals are paired as soon as pairs have been formed.


This teal is known to aviculturists as fairly aggressive, but in my experience, this is not the case. In the ten years that I have kept these teal in my aviaries, I have never seen them really aggressive towards other species of birds. Sometimes they even got chased away by ringed teal (Callonetta leucophrys). However, Durrell has experience with individual birds which chase after and even kill larger ducks (Young, G.H., pers. comm.). They are not very aggressive towards their peers, but the pairs do argue a lot, mainly in the spring and summer (breeding season). The pairs never form groups, not even during the moult or after the breeding season, but tolerate each other's presence if there is sufficient space. Here it is the females who cause trouble and incite the males. They do not injure each other, but only chase each other away. In my experience these teals can easily be kept together with several pairs in a spacious aviary. Multiple Madagascar teals in one aviary ensures that the birds are a lot more active and communicate with each other a lot. If a pair wants to separate themselves from the rest, they usually do this at height in the aviary, so sufficient perches are a must.


Madagascar teal are a relative hardy species. In the winter, some individuals may get wet feathers, so a shelter is advisable, but in my experience a number of heat lamps under a shelter are sufficient. Of course, the water should always remain free of ice, but this is recommended for all waterfowl.


Pellets, duck grain or turtle dove seeds, floating and occasionally duckweed (Lemna sp.) are fed as food. Our birds are always kept in a mixed aviary with other duck species. When I kept them separately in their own aviary, I limited their menu to just pellets and some seeds. During the moulting period, these teal are quite shy and appreciate it if they have enough plants to retreat to.


Madagascar teal ​​have been on the CITES appendix II since 1975 and on the EU listing Annex B of the EU wildlife trade regulations (European basic regulation) since 1997. This means that we need to keep records of this species and each individual animal kept in the collection to prove origin of the birds. Proving the origin is made easier with the help of closed leg rings that are included in the record keeping. In aviculture Madagascar teal can get at least 10 years old, but there is also an individual known that has passed 17 years.


In our collections, we must ensure that these teal do not cross with related species, such as the Sunda or Indonesian teal (Anas gibberifrons). It is therefore advisable never to house these two species together.



In front: juvenile male hybrid Madagascar teal x Sunda teal (Anas gibberifrons)
In back: adult female Sunda teal (Jan Harteman, 2020)


Adult pair, male right

Adult pair of Madagascar teal, male in front (Jan Harteman, 2021) 


Breeding experience with Madagascar teal

I prefer natural reproduction and I always let the ducks incubate the eggs themselves, and if possible, also raise their own ducklings. Incubating the eggs and raising the ducklings themselves is an important part of the birds' welfare and part of their natural behaviour. Unfortunately, it is not always possible for them to raise the ducklings themselves, mainly because I keep them together with other waterfowl species in one aviary. The chance of losing eggs and ducklings while letting the parents look after their own brood is slightly larger, but it is of great added value for animal welfare and our own enjoyment.


Madagascar teal form year-round pairs that even stay together for several years. They are cavity nesters and prefer nesting places that are installed as high as possible in the aviary. Our nest boxes are installed at a height of 2 to 3 meters. Preference is given to closed nest boxes, but braided willow duck baskets are used as well. In the Netherlands we can expect the first eggs in May. The number of eggs per clutch varies between 3 and 9, which are on average 45mm long and 35mm wide, with an average weight of 30 grams. Only the female incubates and after 25-28 days of incubation, the ducklings hatch. The male keeps watch near the nest and will defend the female and ducklings. The female is the only one of the two that keeps the ducklings warm. If parent breeding and rearing is done with this species, it is recommended that they are housed in pairs, as they chase conspecifics away. Ducklings are quite small and vulnerable and, therefore, I have never taken the risk of rearing them with their parents with other waterfowl species in one aviary. If I can't let the birds take care of their own ducklings, I remove the eggs from the nest a day before hatching. I hatch the eggs in an incubator and then transfer them to a polyester rearing tub that has a dry area and a swimming area. The swimming area is covered for the first two days and drinking water is offered in a low bowl. Both swimming and drinking water are changed several times a day. The ducklings are fed micro floating pellets and duckweed. Depending on the clutch size, I move the ducklings to a larger enclosure with swimming area after 7 or 14 days. After about three weeks I switch from micro floating pellets to rearing pellet and as soon as the ducklings are fully feathered, they are fed waterfowl maintenance pellet and I move them to an aviary.


Parent breeding and rearing works best if only one pair of teal is kept in the aviary. As soon as the female leaves the nest with the ducklings, the male joins the family. The family soon enters the water and care must be taken to ensure that the ducklings can easily get out of the pond. I feed the ducklings with micro floating and duckweed and there is always breeding pellet for waterfowl mixed with turtle dove seed offered for the parents. The ducklings only warm up under the female. The moment the juveniles fledge and are able to fly, and they would leave their parents in nature, I catch the young. Shortly afterwards, the male and the female moult at the same time.


Madagascar teal family 2018

Madagascar teal family with ducklings, in aviculture. Adult male in front (Jan Harteman, 2018)


These teal grow less quickly than, for example, ringed teal. There is some leeway to ring the ducklings, which I do at the age of 10-15 days with a 8.0mm closed ring. The ducklings weigh on average 20 grams at hatching and of five ducklings we weighed the average weight at 2 weeks was 92 grams, after 3 weeks 106 grams, after four weeks 151 grams, after five weeks 196 grams and after six weeks 255 grams. The first feathers came through after two weeks and the first primary flight feathers after three weeks. The flight feathers grow 3-5mm per day and ducklings can be estimated on age by their wing measurement. After four weeks, the chest and tail of the chick is completely feathered. The back and body are still down. After five weeks there is only down on the lower back. After six weeks the wing feathers are well present and the juveniles start with the first flights. The white wing feathers are clearly visible around this age. After about 50 days, the young Madagascar teal are able to fly.



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Above: Madagascar teal Youtube playlist (Charles van de Kerkhof & Jan Harteman, 2014-2021)

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