Saturday, January 25, 2014

ID: Female Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal

ID: female Cinnamon Teal
Cinnamon Teal female. Santee Lakes, California. October 11, 2013. Greg Gillson.
Female ducks are generally rather hard to identify. Many birders look around until they can find a drake they can recognize and just assume the hens are the same species. On my Pacific NW Birder blog several years ago I wrote a dabbling duck silhouette quiz. And provided the answers.

That quiz was based on shape. Many hen ducks can be identified by shape alone, while the brown camouflage plumage isn't all that distinctive and can be confusing. Two ducks that are very similar in shape are Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal. Both have blue wing patches and the brown-patterned females are very similar. The subtle pattern on the face is the best way to tell them apart.

The face of the Cinnamon Teal is buffy-brown and rather plain. The crown and lower cheek is slightly darker. There is a hint of a broken eye ring, but it is not obvious.

ID: female Blue-winged Teal
Blue-winged Teal female. Santee Lakes, California. October 11, 2013. Greg Gillson.
In contrast--pun intended, the face of Blue-winged Teal is grayer with more contrast. A dark eye line goes from bill to back of head. Broken white eye rings are obvious. There is often a large pale spot at the base of the bill extending down onto the throat.

Not all individuals are as obvious as these two, And birds in their first year are much more similar. But with practice, you should be able to identify these look-a-likes more frequently with increasing confidence.