The male cinnamon teal (Spatula cyanoptera) is an unusual bird, unlikely to be confused with any other duck. He is mostly deep red from his eyes to his body. This red color is neatly trimmed at both ends with black, the oversized bill being blue-black and the tail being pure black. In the early fall, while molting, this teal fades to a warm brown that resembles the color of his mate. He can always be distinguished, however, by his red eyes.
Female cinnamon teal look more or less like your average brown female ducks. However, their color does tend to be somewhat warmer than usual. They have a suggestion of a line through the eye, but it can be rather indistinct.
Juvenile teal resemble the females, but are paler at first. Young males gradually grow redder with age.
In flight, notice the characteristics that all cinnamon teal share—a blue shoulder patch and a greenish speculum bordered in white on the leading edge. These ducks fly swiftly and directly.
Best Field Marks
- Unusually long, wide bill.
- Red eye of male.
- Red body of male.
The male cinnamon teal’s call is a series of chuk-chuk-chuk sounds. The female quacks.
Distribution & Occurrence
The cinnamon teal is a bird of the western United States. It visits Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge every year, but is rare elsewhere in Kansas. It is most commonly seen during spring migration (April and May) and sometimes during the winter. It prefers small, shallow bodies of water with just enough vegetation to feed from.
Although Kansas is east of its typical breeding range, every few years the cinnamon teal stops at Cheyenne Bottoms to nest.
Cinnamon teal have different social preferences at different times of the year. Most of the time, they spend the day in pairs or small flocks. In fall and winter, however, they become more gregarious, often associating with blue-winged teal, northern shovelers, and northern pintails. In fact, birdwatchers in quest of cinnamon teal will have the best luck scanning larger flocks of blue-winged teal.
These teal are extremely wary and alert, and they have sharp hearing. At the first sound of danger, they will leap directly into the air and take flight.
Although considered a dabbling duck, the cinnamon teal rarely tips up to feed. It prefers to skim the surface of the water for seeds, insects, snails, and crustaceans.
The cinnamon teal forms one pair bond per breeding season, but it will hybridize with many different species of ducks, including mallards, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, and northern shovelers. The female builds the nest in a slight depression on the ground, well hidden in vegetation some distance from the water. She may even access the nest through tunnels in the marsh grass for extra safety. She lays 9 to 12 white to buffy eggs and incubates them for 21 to 25 days. Although the young are able to leave the nest soon after hatching, the female cares for them until they are able to fly at about 49 days of age.
Cinnamon teal are not common enough in Kansas to be attracted reliably. However, migrating birds may choose to rest for a time in a ditch if the grass is left uncut for privacy.
Hunters prize cinnamon teal as trophy ducks. They go to great pains to find elaborate decoys to bring the birds within range, but for added realism they also set out northern shoveler decoys to simulate a mixed flock. Judicious use of a teal call can help, as well.
Female Blue-Winged Teal
This challenge is one that can baffle the most experienced birder. The best field mark to look for is probably the bill. The blue-winged teal’s bill is proportionate to its face, while the cinnamon teal’s bill looks excessively long and broad. Also, if you have an eye for ducks or if you can compare the two species side by side, note the blue-winged teal’s smaller size, duller color, and sharper eye line.
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.