A surprisingly small dabbling duck, the cinnamon teal is one of the most easily recognized ducks in western North America and South America because of its warm, rich colors. While females are more camouflaged, their exaggerated bill shape also helps distinguish them from similar ducks. Along with the ruddy duck, the cinnamon teal is one of only two waterfowl species to have breeding ranges in both North and South America.
- Bill: Long, spatulate, black or blue-black
- Size: 15-17 inches long with 28-inch wingspan, thick neck, tapered body
- Colors: Black, cinnamon, white, blue, buff, green, brown
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a rich cinnamon head, neck and underparts and a bright red eye. The back is mottled brown, buff and black, with long buff-white streaks near the tail. The head may show a gray-brown crown, and the undertail coverts are black. In flight, wings show white underneath and a pale blue patch on the upper forewing. The iridescent green speculum shows brightly in flight. Females are a mottled brown and buff overall, with finer markings on the head and breast. Buff arcs are visible above and below the dark eye. The blue and green markings on the wings are visible but dull. Both genders have yellow legs and feet. Juvenile birds resemble females but have paler plumage overall, and young males will show a cinnamon wash on the head and flanks as they get older.
Aquatic plants, seeds, grain, mollusks, crustaceans (See: Omnivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These ducks can regularly be found in shallow, marshy waterways such as reedy swamps, flooded fields and brackish or alkaline ponds. They can be found year-round in central and southern California, western Arizona and central Mexico, with more year-round populations extending from southern Peru throughout Argentina. In summer, the northern breeding range of the cinnamon teal extends to southwestern Canada and throughout the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain region. In winter, migratory populations of cinnamon teal stay in southern Texas and throughout Mexico, as well as in Colombia and northern Argentina. These ducks migrate fairly early in the season and mature males may begin migrating as early as late July or early August.
Vagrant sightings of these ducks are regularly reported east of their breeding range, particularly during spring migration and winter months. Occasional sightings in Europe are believed to be escaped captive birds rather than true vagrants.
Like most ducks, cinnamon teal are not exceptionally vocal, but they do have a rapid, throaty “kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk” call that can be repeated at great speeds and with many syllables.
These ducks will congregate in mixed flocks with other ducks in the fall and winter, primarily associating with blue-winged teals and northern pintails. While foraging, they skim the surface of the water with their wide bills to filter food, and only occasionally “tip up” in true dabbling fashion.
Cinnamon teal are monogamous birds. Females build their nests on the ground in isolated, sheltered areas of thick reeds or grasses, and have even been observed constructing their shallow depression nests beneath reed roots or other plant material and accessing the nest through tunnel-like structures. After the 4-16 white, buff or pale pink eggs are laid, the female parent incubates them for 21-25 days. During early incubation, the male parent may stay nearby to guard the female or bring her food.
After the eggs hatch, the altricial young are able to leave the nest rapidly. They stay with the female parent for 48-50 days until their first flight. Only a single brood is hatched each year per mated pair.
Attracting Cinnamon Teal:
These are not backyard birds, but they readily visit even small brackish ponds or flooded ditches in agricultural areas where excess grain may be available in fields. Leaving reeds and grasses intact along these types of waterways provides shelter for cinnamon teal, giving them a sense of security.
Cinnamon teal are protected birds, but licensed seasonal hunting is permitted (state hunting regulations and restrictions vary). These birds can be susceptible to habitat loss or contamination of their shallow wetland habitats, but no strong changes in population or distribution have raised concern in recent years.