by Connie Marmet

Cinnamon Teal – photo by Matt Davis

Did you know that the Cinnamon Teal is not only a small, rust colored dabbling duck but also a protagonist in the Disney movie series, “DuckTales”? Disney’s Cinnamon Teal has white feathers, a black pixie haircut, and a mole on her cheek, looking more like Daisy Duck than a Teal.  

The real Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera, is distinguished by dark reddish-brown feathers with a pale blue shoulder patch. Females are mottled brown, also with a pale blue shoulder patch although faint. Females and males in fall plumage are difficult to distinguish from Blue-winged Teal. Not only are they often confused in the field or even in hand, but many bandings are thought to be incorrect, especially among birds wintering in South America. Female Cinnamon Teal even quack like male Blue-winged. The two species have been known to inter-breed.   Internet searches provide side by side comparisons.

Yes, Cinnamon Teal winter as far south as South America, even with some nesting populations there. They are also unique in that they are only located in the western parts of the United States, including Montana. They are only present from spring to fall. For distribution in Montana, please see maps below.

Cinnamon Teal are found in freshwater wetlands and permanent marshes but may feed on other bodies of water. Like other dabbling ducks, they strain food near the surface, heads submerged. They often feed in close formation with other birds, benefiting from food stirred up by them. They feed largely on seeds and shoots of marsh grasses but may also eat snails and insects. Note that in some ways, the Cinnamon Teal seems to be intermediate in between Northern Shovelers and Blue-winged Teal.

Nests are built at the base of tall grasses. The female hollows out a depression not far from water. She adds down from her breast and lays from 4-16 creamy white eggs. If water levels rise, she adds more material to the nest to keep it from flooding.  

Yellow downed ducklings with gray-brown eye stripes hatch in 21-25 day. They are led to water and immediately start to feed themselves. Within seven weeks, they are capable of flight. The parents may hatch another brood that same season. When threatened, females may do a broken wing display to protect the brood.

Cinnamon Teal are not monogamous. The male does stay with the female as she prepares the nest and have been seen with the brood. The males also defend a small, fixed territory during incubation. Cinnamon Teal are very territorial, although not as territorial as Blue-winged.  They will however chase Blue-winged from their area.

Males may also mate with more than one female in a season. Male courtship displays include ritual preening, head movements, and synchronous “jump flights”. The female indicates consent by swimming in front of the male and rejection by head pumping or opening her bill.

After breeding, Cinnamon Teal gather in flocks to molt and migrate. Flocks are largely peaceful at this time, but the males may dominate females. Flocks tend to migrate by day.

While numerous, Cinnamon Teal have a declining population. The Bird Conservancy estimated a breeding population of 380,000. They rank 13 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, placing them on the Yellow Watch List. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recorded 800,000 Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal taken by hunters each year. They are susceptible to contaminants from agriculture and industry as well as loss of wetlands.