“Like a duck on the pond. On the surface everything looks calm, but beneath the water those little feet are churning a mile a minute.”
— Gene Hackman
Recently while traveling through the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge my attention was drawn to two feathery newcomers. The newcomers were a handsome pair of cinnamon teal. The male had a deep cinnamon head, neck and belly, light brown back and dark gray bill with deep red eyes. The female was overall brown with a pale brown head and a shovel-like bill.
Arriving in early May, the Cinnamon Teal tend to be the last of the teal species to arrive in the area for the summer. They migrate mainly from Mexico or Central America to northwestern parts of the United States for breeding and raising their young.
Several cinnamon teal males may court one female, making a ritualized mock feeding and preening movements. Males make short display flights and often may develop into pursuit flights, with males chasing females. Nest sites are usually close to water among good cover of sedges, weeds, soft grass and generally the nests are well concealed. The female selects and builds the nest in a shallow depression with some dead grass and weeds added, lined with down. The female often places her nest below matted, dead stems of vegetation so it is completely concealed on all sides and from above. She approaches the nest through tunnels in the vegetation.
Hen cinnamon teal generally lay 9-12 eggs, with the color of the eggs being whitish to very pale buff. The incubation is by female only, and is approximately 21-25 days. After they hatch the hen leads the young teal to water and they instinctively find their own food. The young are surprisingly capable of flight in seven weeks. It is common if danger threatens the young, the adult female may put on broken-wing act as a distraction display. Unlike most duck species, the male may not abandon his mate until near the time the eggs hatch, and sometimes the male is seen accompanying the female and young brood.
The cinnamon teal usually forage in shallow water, swimming forward with head partly submerged, and straining food from water. One feeding duck may follow another, taking advantage of food stirred up by paddling actions of the first bird. They occasionally feed on land near water.
The cinnamon teals eat mainly seeds, their diet includes seeds of sedges, grasses, pondweeds, others. They also eat insects, snails, small crustaceans. Generally they consume mostly seeds and other plant material in fall, and a higher proportion of animal matter (mainly insects) in spring.
A close relative of blue-winged teal (and sometimes hybridizing with it), the cinnamon teal has a slightly larger bill, better developed for straining food items out of the water. In some ways this species seems intermediate between blue-winged teal and northern shoveler.
Mallards and other ducks often lay eggs in teal nests, resulting in many nests totaling over 15 eggs.
Enjoy the beauty of Boundary County and its wildlife.