Cinnamon teal is a rare bird

By Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

Teal are small ducks well known for their speed. Tightly grouped flocks buzz past decoys or plop in without first being seen and burst off the water just as quickly.

Blue-winged Teal migrate into our region in August and September. Most continue onward to Latin America for the winter but a reasonable number spend the winter here. The teal that went to Latin America return in mid-spring and remain a bit before returning north to breeding grounds.

Green-winged Teal are much smaller than Blue-winged Teal. They arrive in November and remain through the winter in large numbers.

From time to time, a really odd teal is found associating with wintering Blue-winged Teal. Drake Cinnamon Teal stand out because they are a bright reddish cinnamon color with bright red eyes. But, you will have to look through thousands of Blue-winged Teal to find a single male Cinnamon Teal. Hen Cinnamon Teal are relatively plain grayish color and closely resemble female Blue-winged Teal. So, they are almost impossible to spot.

The drakes of all three teal species are relatively drab in color and similar to hens when they are not in breeding plumage. Both Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal have broad blue forewings while Green-winged Teal have bright green trailing wing patches.

Breeding Blue-winged Teal drakes have blue heads and white facial crescents and their bodies are a bright rufous brown but not the bright cinnamon color of Cinnamon Teal. Drake Green-winged Teal have chestnut heads with bright green ear patches.

Cinnamon Teal are the common in western North America while Blue-winged Teal are common in eastern North America. Birders California are excited when they find a Blue-winged Teal while those in the South and East are excited when they find a Cinnamon Teal. The birds do hybridize from time to time. The hybrid is a clear intermediate between the two parents.

A few Cinnamon Teal are reported each year by birders visiting Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge south of Lake Charles Louisiana. I have been fortunate to see these rare birds on four separate occasions during the past 6 years, three times at the refuge and once on private property in central Rapides Parish.

My most recent encounter with Cinnamon Teal was memorable because air temperature was around freezing with a strong north wind on January 7, 2014. I was "guiding" Tom Pollock and Jonathan Clark, two avid birders from central Louisiana. It was so cold we spent most of the day in Tom's SUV!

We were on Pintail Loop on the east side of Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. We had been alerted to the presence of at least one pair of Cinnamon Teal in a small canal in the northeast corner of the loop. Sure enough we spotted the drake with several Blue-winged Teal. The birds were no more than 30 feet from our vehicle. Close observation revealed that one of the gray-brown hens was, indeed, a female Cinnamon Teal. The duck's somewhat elongated black bill resembled a small version of the shovel/spoon-like bill of the Northern Shoveler, a duck often called a "spoonie" by hunters.

Jay V. Huner
Louisiana Ecrevisse
428 Hickory Hill Drive
Boyce, LA 71409
318 793-5529 •