A medium-sized and beautifully colored dabbling duck, the American wigeon is common in western North America but regularly seen throughout southern regions of the continent in winter. Easily recognized by its distinctive plumage, light bill and surprisingly squeaky voice, this duck is a favorite for many waterfowl enthusiasts.
American Wigeon, Baldpate
- Bill: Spatulate, pale blue-gray with broad black tip
- Size: 18-22 inches long with 30-35-inch wingspan, short neck, pointed tail
- Colors: Gray, brown, rufous, white, black, buff, iridescent green
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a speckled head and neck with a bold white forehead and crown and an iridescent green patch that covers the eye and auriculars. Upperparts are brown with gray and black edging, and the chest and flanks are brown or rufous. The abdomen is grayish-white, and the white on the lower abdomen extends to the lower flanks. The tail and undertail coverts are black, and the tail shows bold white edging. In flight, a broad white wing patch and dark green speculum are visible. Females have a gray-brown head and neck, darker brown and black mottling on the back and rufous breast and flanks. Undertail coverts are black and the black tail shows buff edging. In flight, the wing patch is gray and the speculum is less visible than on males. Legs and feet are dark for both genders. Juvenile birds resemble adult females. Species is monotypic.
Aquatic plants, seeds, insects (See: Omnivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These dabblers are often found in freshwater or brackish marshes, ponds, rivers and lakes in open wooded areas, and they can occasionally be found near wet agricultural areas as well, such as in flooded drainage canals. They can be found year-round in the interior of the Pacific Northwest, including eastern Washington and Oregon, Idaho and northeast California, with another isolated year-round population in eastern Colorado. In summer, the American wigeon's breeding range extends throughout all of Canada and Alaska except the extreme Arctic regions, and they are more rare along the ocean coasts. The summer range extends as far south as northern Nevada, Utah and Colorado, as well as around Lakes Erie and Ontario. In winter, these ducks migrate to both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts as far north as Alaska and Massachusetts, and they are found inland throughout the southern United States and into Mexico and Central America, as far south as Colombia and Venezuela. Regular vagrant birds are reported in Europe each fall and winter.
The American wigeon has a high-pitched, wheezy whistle with emphasis on the second syllable of the “wheee-wheee” call. Hens will also quack, though it is less commonly heard.
These dabbling ducks forage by tipping up to access plants on the bottom of shallow waterways, and they will also occasionally graze on land in open fields and grasslands. They are gregarious in winter and will form large mixed flocks with other dabbling ducks, geese and swans, though they can be wary and may take flight quickly if startled. Their flight is swift and agile. During the breeding season, the American wigeon has various courtship displays including tail wags, sudden jumps and wing flaps.
These are monogamous birds, and a mated pair will raise one brood of 3-13 eggs per year. The female parent builds a nest in a shallow depression on the ground, on dry land or on a small island. The nest is constructed of fine sticks, twigs and grass lined with down and fine grasses. The eggs are creamy white and oval-shaped. The female parent incubates the eggs for 22-26 days, and she also cares for the precocial young for an additional 45-65 days after hatching.
Attracting American Wigeons:
Because of their shy personalities, these are not typical backyard birds. In fields where regular flooding occurs, they can be attracted to wetland plants if suitable habitat is preserved.
Though they are regularly hunted, American wigeon populations are stable or increasing in many areas, and these ducks are carefully monitored and managed to provide suitable hunting stock without devastating wild populations. Conservation of appropriate wetland and pond habitats will ensure continued population growth for American wigeons.