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Cinnamon Teal Life History



In North America, Cinnamon Teal nest in freshwater wetlands of western North America. Most of their preferred habitats have plenty of emergent vegetation, and they are most abundant on large, permanent marshes. However, they use streams, reservoirs, ditches, and stock ponds, and they readily use temporary wetlands as well. Marsh plants associated with nesting, but also with habitats in the southern (and wintering) parts of range, include baltic rush, saltgrass, spikerush, tufted hairgrass, western wheatgrass, foxtail barley, as well as various bulrushes, cattails, and sedges. Some of these plants provide both cover and food. Wintering birds in Mexico use reservoirs and wet agricultural fields to tidal estuaries and mangrove swamps.

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Cinnamon Teal feed much like other dabbling ducks, taking most of their food at or near the surface by rapidly opening and closing the bill to take seeds, aquatic vegetation, zooplankton, and insects. Cinnamon Teal sometimes feed like Northern Shovelers, following each other in tight groups as they forage slowly across an area, almost in unison. Commonly recorded plants in the diet include seeds and shoots of marsh grasses such as alkali bulrush, hardstem bulrush, smartweed, wigeongrass, spikerush, horned pondweed, and millet. A smaller portion of the diet is made up by snails, beetles, dragonflies, midges, water fleas, water boatmen, and many types of flies.

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Nest Placement


Females select the nest site, usually beneath dead marsh grasses that are less than 2 feet tall, not far from water. In the northern part of the species’ range, nest sites are selected so that they are warmed by the sun in the early morning and shaded in the afternoon.

Nest Description

Females scrape a depression and line it with rushes, saltgrass, bulrushes, and grasses, material from the immediate vicinity of the scrape. They add down from their breast as egg-laying commences. If water levels rise during incubation, females will augment the nest with more material to keep it from flooding. Measurements from 5 nests averaged 7.3 inches across, with the interior cavity 5 inches across by 2 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:4-16 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:1.7-2.0 in (4.4-5 cm)
Egg Width:1.3-1.4 in (3.33-3.5 cm)
Incubation Period:21-25 days
Egg Description:

Creamy white.

Condition at Hatching:

Covered in yellow down with a gray-brown eyestripe. Able to leave nest soon after hatching.

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Like many duck species in North America, Cinnamon Teal perform courtship displays and form pairs from late winter into early spring. Pairs may be monogamous for the breeding season, but at least some males copulate with multiple females in a season. Their courtship displays are most intense when multiple males are gathered around a single female. Displaying males perform ritualized preenings of their wings, back, and breast, move their heads through various positions, dip and upend as though feeding, and perform synchronous “jump flights” together as the female watches. The female signals interest in a male by swimming in front of him, and she rejects a male by head-pumping or opening the bill, both general threat displays in this species. Males guard females from the moment they begin building the nest through most of the incubation period, and they also defend a small fixed territory that includes the nest and the male’s favorite resting spot. Cinnamon Teal chase not just intruders of their own species but often Blue-winged Teal as well, though Cinnamon appears to be less intensely territorial than Blue-winged. After breeding, Cinnamon Teal gather in flocks to molt and migrate. The male’s rusty plumage is lost during molt from late summer through autumn, and flock behavior is generally more peaceable at that time, though males are still somewhat dominant over females.

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Cinnamon Teal are numerous, but their populations have declined since 1968, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 380,000, rates the species a 13 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and includes the species on the Yellow Watch List for declining populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carefully monitors duck populations and hunting levels; in recent years, about 800,000 Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal have been taken by hunters in the U.S. each year. As a wetland species, Cinnamon Teal is susceptible to contaminants from agriculture and industry through most of its range. In western North America, loss of wetlands to agriculture, grazing, and especially development of human settlements has meant massive loss of habitat for Cinnamon Teal. The wetlands that remain may be polluted or converted to deepwater reservoirs for recreational fishing, making them less useful to Cinnamon Teal.

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Gammonley, James H. (2012). Cinnamon Teal (Spatula cyanoptera), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Raftovich, R. V., S. C. Chandler and K. A. Wilkins. (2015). Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 hunting seasons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, MD, USA.

Raftovich, R. V., S. C. Chandler, and K. K. Fleming. (2018). Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 hunting seasons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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