American Wigeon

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Common Name: American Wigeon
Scientific Name: Anas americana

Size: 16.5–23.2 inches (42–59 cm); Wingspan: 33.1 inches (84 cm)

Habitat: The Americas; breeding in all but the extreme north of Canada and Alaska and also in the Interior West through Idaho, Colorado, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, as well as eastern Washington and Oregon. The majority of the population breeds on wetlands in the Boreal Forest and subarctic river deltas of Canada and Alaska. Although wigeon are found in each flyway, they are most numerous in the Pacific Flyway. Key wintering areas here include the Central Valley of California and Washington's Puget Sound. Farther east, the Texas Panhandle and the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas also support large numbers of wintering wigeon.

This dabbling duck is migratory and winters farther south than its breeding range, in the southern half of the United States, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and the Mid-Atlantic coastal region, and further south into Central America and northwestern South America. It is a rare but regular vagrant to Western Europe.

The American Wigeon is a bird of open wetlands, such as wet grassland or marshes with some taller vegetation.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 2,500,000 individuals. Populations declined by approximately 50 percent in the 1980s as a result of extended drought in prairie regions, but have since largely recovered. In recent decades, wigeon numbers have declined in the prairie-parkland region of Canada and increased in the interior and west coast of Alaska. The American Wigeon is often the fifth most commonly hunted duck in the United States, behind the Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, and Wood Duck.

Diet: Aquatic plants; some insects and mollusks during the breeding season. Wigeon also commonly feed on dry land, eating waste grain in harvested fields and grazing on pasture grasses, winter wheat, clover, and lettuce. They feed on vegetation at and just below the water’s surface, submerging their heads and tipping their tails up to reach plants.

They are highly gregarious outside of the breeding season and will form large flocks. They are often seen with Coots.

Nesting: Males in breeding plumage have a white or cream-colored forehead and forecrown and a broad dark-green patch extending from behind eye to nape. The bill is bluish-gray with a black tip. The cheeks and the chin grayish and the breast, sides, and back are pinkish-brown. The rear flanks show a white patch with the under tail coverts black. The male’s eclipse plumage has variable amounts of white and green on the head. The under tail coverts are variably black, with some white. In all plumages, the male shows a white patch on the upper wing, and a dark-green speculum. The female’s head appears grayish overall, with finely-blended white and dusky streaks. The breast and flanks are pale reddish-brown; the mantle is grayish-brown with some buff barring. The bill is small and grayish, with a black tip. Immatures are similar to adult female.

American Wigeon courtship displays include tail-wagging, head-turning, wing-flapping, and sudden jumps out of the water. It nests on the ground, near water and under cover. It lays 6–12 creamy white eggs

Cool Facts: Widgeon or wigeon? Widgeon is an older spelling with Wigeon becoming the more accepted term by birders now. The American Wigeon was formerly known as "Baldpate" because the white stripe resembled a bald man's head.

The American Wigeon's short bill enables it to exert more force at the bill tip than other dabbling ducks, thus permitting efficient dislodging and plucking of vegetation. They are the most likely dabbling duck to leave the water and graze on vegetation in fields and their diet has a higher proportion of plant matter than the diet of any other dabbling duck.


Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume I: Dabbling Ducks

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