Banding Cinnamon Teal Across the Intermountain West

The Cinnamon Teal’s elegant profile with a dark bill and flame-red eye is an unheralded icon of the Intermountain West. More than 60 percent of their breeding habitat occurs within the Intermountain West Joint Venture’s boundaries, but few studies have been conducted on this cinnamon and blue bird, until now.

“Cinnamon Teal are unique to the West,” said wildlife biologist Dave Olson. “They like seasonal and semi-permanent mountain alkali wetlands of various sizes in this region.”

Olson is the Region 6 Game Bird Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Program. He began coordinating a Cinnamon Teal preseason-banding project last year to assess the bird’s population dynamics, distribution, and harvest pressure.

“This project’s overall objective is to increase our confidence in Cinnamon Teal survival estimates,” Olson said. “This puts better science behind determining harvest numbers and other management decisions.” 

Cinnamon Teal are a hallmark of western wetlands admired by hunters and bird watchers alike, said Josh Vest, IWJV Science Coordinator.  They are the only native dabbling ducks to breed in both the northern and southern hemispheres but their population size is among the smallest of North American ducks. These birds tend to migrate in small flocks with other ducks (mallards, blue-winged teal, and other dabblers) and avoid large congregations.

“Because these birds largely breed and winter in areas not covered by coordinated regional surveys for waterfowl and because they are an early migrant,” Vest said, “we have a poor understanding of population demographics for this species.  An increased banding effort for Cinnamon Teal provides an important tool to better understand population performance and refine management and conservation strategies.”

To catch and band these birds Olson and other biologists set up swim-in traps baited with corn or barley when the birds are looking for food sources in late summer. Once trapped, the ducks are scooped out, identified, sexed, aged, banded, and released. The bands are recovered when hunters harvest the birds and Olson said this reporting method has been very effective and cost-efficient. From this information Olson can estimate how often the birds are harvested and where, and then calculate their survival rates and distribution.

Wildlife refuges are essential to this project. The refuge biologists in key areas help with the banding, and their interest and willingness to help when they already have a full plate of work is greatly appreciated, Olson said.

“My hope is to get more funding to the (refuge) stations so they could hire some seasonal technicians to help with banding,” he said. “What little knowledge we have on Cinnamon Teal come from refuges that have banded these birds in the past or through old biological station reports. State wildlife management areas also play a very important part in banding projects.”

2012 was a pilot year for this study and 700 teal were banded. Olson plans to increase this to 1,500 Cinnamon Teal banded annually for the next five years. Olson said he is setting up this study for a future researcher to continue and develop a long-term, flyway-wide study.

Olson specifically thanks Monte Vista and Alamosa National Wildlife Refuges and Russell Lakes Wildlife Management Area in Colorado, and Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.  He said he hopes to add more refuges in other states in order to get a more broad distribution of banding sites.