A relatively small dabbling duck, named for the distinctive reddish-brown to chestnut head and body of the male, the cinnamon teal also possesses a conspicuous blue patch on the upper wing (2) (3) (4) (5) (6), which is visible in flight and gives the species its scientific name, cyanoptera, meaning ‘dark blue wing’ (4). During the breeding season, the male cinnamon teal has a dark brownish-black crown and back, a green speculum, separated from the blue shoulders by a white band, and elongated, black ‘shoulder’ feathers which are striped with buff. The tail is blackish and the underwings are white, while the bill is black and the legs and feet are orange-yellow, with slightly darker webbing between the toes (3) (4) (5) (6). In contrast to the male, the female cinnamon teal is much more drab, being mottled brown with dark streaking, and with a darker green speculum. Females may vary from pale to quite dark in colour, and can also be distinguished from the male by the duller legs, hazel rather than orange to red eyes, and, in some subspecies, by the smaller size (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). Outside of the breeding season, the male more closely resembles the female, but is more chestnut in colour and retains the red eyes and brighter green speculum on the wing. Juvenile birds resemble the adult female, but have more heavily streaked underparts (2) (3) (4) (5).
Five subspecies of cinnamon teal are recognised: Anas cyanoptera cyanoptera (Argentine cinnamon teal), Anas cyanoptera septentrionalium (northern cinnamon teal), Anas cyanoptera tropica (tropical cinnamon teal), Anas cyanoptera borreroi (Borrero’s cinnamon teal) and Anas cyanoptera orinomus (Andean cinnamon teal). These differ in both size and colouration, and all except the northern cinnamon teal tend to have black spots on the breast, flanks and sides of the body in males (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). Female and juvenile cinnamon teals can be difficult to distinguish from the closely related blue-winged teal (Anas discors), but the cinnamon teal has a slightly larger bill (3) (4) (5) (6) (7). In some areas the two species interbreed (5) (7).
- Also known as
- red teal, red-breasted teal.
- Length: 35 - 48 cm (2) (3)
- Wingspan: 56 - 69 cm (3)
- Male weight: 315 - 450 g (4)
- Female weight: 265 - 470 g (4)
Cinnamon teal biology
The cinnamon teal feeds mainly by dabbling at the surface of shallow water, swimming forward with the head partially submerged as it strains food from the water with its beak. It will also forage by upending and head-dipping, and occasionally feeds on land near water (2) (5) (7). Groups of feeding teal will often swim behind each other, taking advantage of food stirred up by the birds in front (5) (7). The diet is varied and includes seeds, roots, aquatic plants, insects, molluscs, crustaceans and zooplankton (2) (5) (7). A higher proportion of animal matter may be eaten in spring, when the females need more energy for egg production (5) (7).
Although usually seen in pairs or small groups during the breeding season, larger flocks of cinnamon teal sometimes form during winter and on migration, and the species often associates with other waterfowl, such as the blue-winged teal (Anas discors), northern shoveler (Anas clypeata) and gadwall (Anas strepera) (4) (5). The cinnamon teal is described as being a quiet species compared to other dabbling ducks, although the male sometimes gives a nasal, whistling call and the female a high-pitched quacking (3) (4) (5).
The breeding season varies with location, but usually starts around April in the north of the range (2) (5). The nest is a well-concealed depression in the ground, usually located in thick vegetation near water and lined with grass, vegetation and down (2) (5) (7). The female alone builds the nest, incubates the 4 to 16 eggs for between 21 and 25 days and cares for the young (2) (5) (7), although the male will remain with and aggressively guard his mate until about the third week of incubation (5) (7). The ducklings are olive-brown above and greenish-yellow below (2) (4), and are able to fly after about seven weeks (2) (5) (7). The cinnamon teal usually breeds for the first time at a year old, and has been recorded living for over 12 years in the wild (5).
Cinnamon teal range
The cinnamon teal is found throughout the Americas, at elevations of up to 5,000 metres in the high Andes Mountains (2). A. c. septentrionalium occurs mainly in western and central North America, from British Colombia in Canada south to north-western Mexico, and may also winter further south into northern South America. The other four subspecies are found in South America, with A. c. tropica occurring in the lowlands of northwest Colombia, A. c. borreroi in the moist highlands of the eastern Andes of Colombia, A. c. orinomus in the high Andes from southern Peru and Bolivia to Argentina and Chile, and A. c. cyanoptera from southern Peru, Bolivia and southern Brazil, south as far as Tierra del Fuego. A. c. cyanoptera also occurs on the Falkland Islands (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The cinnamon teal is a partially migratory species, with populations in the far north of the range moving south in winter, and those in the far south moving north (2) (3) (5) (6).
Cinnamon teal habitat
This species inhabits a range of shallow freshwater and brackish wetland habitats, including lakes, pools, marshes and coastal lagoons (2) (3) (4) (5) (6), and will also use highly alkaline waters (4) (5) (7). The cinnamon teal appears to have a preference for areas with abundant emergent vegetation (2) (4) (5).
Cinnamon teal status
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Cinnamon teal threats
The cinnamon teal has a large range and is not currently considered at risk of extinction (8). However, the tropical cinnamon teal (A. c. tropica) has a small and declining population that is under threat from habitat loss and excessive shooting, while Borrero’s cinnamon teal (A. c. borreroi) may now number fewer than 250 individuals and could be on the verge of extinction (2) (3) (4). Although numerous in the 1950s, this subspecies has been subject to habitat loss and hunting, and was in fact declared extinct in 1974 until its rediscovery in 1980 (3). No major threats are known to the other subspecies (3), and the cinnamon teal is not heavily harvested by hunters in the United States or Canada, but in some areas it may be impacted by the degradation of wetland habitats, for example due to water extraction, overgrazing, development and pollution (5).
Cinnamon teal conservation
The cinnamon teal is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which aims to conserve migratory species throughout their range (9). There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently targeted at this species, but it is likely to benefit from efforts to protect and restore key wetland habitats in some areas (5). Relatively little is known about the South American populations of the cinnamon teal, and it is also one of the least-studied waterfowl species in North America. Further research into its biology, ecology and populations will therefore be important in informing any future conservation efforts for this rather under-studied duck (5).
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- Having a pH greater than 7.0.
- Slightly salty water, usually a mixture of salt and freshwater, such as that found in estuaries.
- Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
- Aquatic plants whose stems and leaves extend beyond the water’s surface.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
- In birds, a distinct patch of brightly coloured feathers, often iridescent or metallic in appearance, found on the secondary feathers of the wing (the shorter flight feathers along the inner edge of the wing).
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
- Tiny aquatic animals that drift with currents or swim weakly in water.
IUCN Red List (September, 2010)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Ogilvie, M.A. and Young, S. (2002) Photographic Handbook: Wildfowl of the World. New Holland Publishers, London.
Kear, J. (2005) Ducks, Geese and Swans. Volume 2: Species Accounts (Cairina to Mergus). Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Gammonley, J.H. (1996) Cinnamon teal (Anas cyanoptera). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
Blake, E.R. (1977) Manual of Neotropical Birds. Volume 1: Spheniscidae (Penguins) to Laridae (Gulls and Allies). University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
Kaufman, K. (2001) Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts.
BirdLife International (September, 2010)
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (September, 2010)