Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Sunday, August 23, 2020

Sienna Cyan

A male Cinnamon Teal, in breeding plumage, is a feast for the eyes. There are many beautiful birds to be found around Union Bay, however, spatula cyanoptera is truly a magnificent creature. 

I believe the term spatula, in the scientific name, refers to its spoon-like bill which is somewhat similar to that of a Northern Shoveler. The term cyanoptera evidently refers to the blue and green colors on the wing. Small hints of the blue can be seen in this photo. The reference to the word cinnamon in the common name is beautifully obvious.

In mid-April, when I first saw this particular bird, it was half-hidden in the pennywort. I was standing on Oak Point to the west of Duck Bay. Click Here to see my map of the area. 

I do not consider Cinnamon Teals a common duck. Although, Birdweb (Click on the Find in WA tab) does call them 'fairly common' in the Puget Sound area, during late spring and summer. I suspect Cinnamon Teals are the least common migratory duck that regularly visits Union Bay during breeding season.

Almost every year, I see a few at the Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA). I seldom see them on the south side of Union Bay. Apparently, there is a significant difference between the UBNA habitat and the environment around Duck Bay and Foster Island. 

Whatever that difference may be, it is not readily apparent to me. Although, the south side has had direct freeway runoff for more than fifty years. I wonder if Cinnamon Teals will spend more time around Foster Island and Duck Bay when the automotive pollution stops flowing into the water?

Mesmerized, I watched the duck work its way west. Soon the Teal passed around the north end of Elderberry Island and out of sight. I quickly turned and headed south, west, and then north. I finally arrived with a view of the water to the west of the island. The Teal was gone. I assumed it had flown and started looking for other wildlife.

Here is a photo of a female Cinnamon Teal from two years ago in the UBNA. They are very similar to female Blue-winged Teals. The C. Teal has a slightly larger bill and...

... if she attracts a male Cinnamon Teal that is also a good identifying hint.

In both the male and the female the underside of the wing is a surprisingly nondescript mixture of mostly pale colors.

On the other hand, actually, I should say on the upper side of the wing both sexes have a large patch of blue, a triangle of white, and a smaller patch of green which is the speculum. As you will see, these colors are brighter on the males.

A close up of the female shows the faintness of her green speculum. Given the way the blue feathers were not fully grown (in mid-July of 2019), she may have been molting.

In April 2020, while standing to the west of Elderberry Island, it suddenly occurred to me that the Cinnamon Teal may not have flown after all. While I was following the mainland trail around the island, and the Teal was hidden from my view, it could easily have turned and worked his way back towards Duck Bay. Once again I hurried around the island and back to my original location. 

To my surprise, the Cinnamon Teal was there.

It swam east until it arrived at the remains of a beaver-cut cottonwood. 

When it hauled-out on the log the dampness of its underside was readily apparent.

While looking at this photo, the full-body view made me pause to consider how big is a Cinnamon Teal. Even though they have a classic duck shape they weigh less than half as much as a Mallard. On average, they even weigh less than a Crow.

It was getting late in the afternoon and the Cinnamon Teal was apparently well-fed and ready for a bath.

The water running off of its head and chest gave it an almost plasticized-looking shine.

Afterward, when it stood to shake off the water, I caught a brief glimpse of the large blue patches on the upper, leading half of its wings. The only other species with similar patches, that I know of, are Blue-winged Teals and male Northern Shovelers.

After bathing, its next thought was apparently preening. I remember thinking, How in the world could a bird this gorgeous and handsome be standing around in the middle of the breeding season without a mate?

When he leaned forward, to pluck at his chest, he exposed the thin wavy black lines running across his back. Every detail of his plumage is incredibly exquisite.

The Cinnamon Teal did its best preening-pelican imitation.

Our North American Cinnamon Teals migrate north from Mexico and California and breed primarily in the Rocky Mountains and west to the Pacific Coast. Southwestern Canada is the limit of their northern migration. 

Surprisingly, there is a completely separate population of Cinnamon Teals in the south half of Southern American. This group is essentially non-migratory and apparently never mixes with our North American population. 

Wouldn't it be interesting to do genetic research on the two populations? I wonder which is the younger group? Did migration originate out of the non-migratory group or was the South American population initiated by a pair of misguided migratory North American birds? 

While our hero was preening he revealed a nice glimpse of his blue wing feathers and a hint of his vibrant green speculum. 

 When he straightened one of his primary wing feathers... 

 ...it drew attention to their alternating gold and black coloring.

His fiery red eyes will remain even when he molts into eclipse plumage, later in the summer. The female-like, camouflage coloring of eclipse plumage will increase his odds of surviving while he grows new flight feathers. 

When he tucked his head and went to sleep I headed home for dinner. Since that day, I have not seen a single Cinnamon Teal on the south side of Union Bay. I wish him well wherever he ended up. I hope he found a mate and they produced a nest full of young. 

By the way, the title Sienna Cyan was to help make the point that a Cinnamon Teal has two names which both refer to its colors. Shouldn't the name Cinnamon Teal feel as odd as calling a Red-winged Blackbird a Red Black?

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors, and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

By the way, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is extremely helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.

To what species does this plant belong? Is it native to Union Bay? 

Scroll down for the answer.


Garden Loosestrife: It is a noxious, invasive, and undesirable weed. Since it is flowering now this is a good time to identify it. Click Here to learn how it should be dealt with in King County.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is: LDHubbell@Comcast.Net


One last photo:


  1. Informative and so beautifully illustrated! Cinnamon Teal are one of my favorites. I love how the male's eyes match his feathers. I don't see them very often.

    1. Thank you! I feel like every sighting is like a gift.