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American Wigeon

American Wigeon

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The American Wigeon, also American Widgeon or Baldpate, (Anas americana) is a species of wigeon
Wigeon
The Eurasian Wigeon, also known as Widgeon or Eurasian Widgeon is one of three species of wigeon in the dabbling duck genus Anas. It is common and widespread within its range...

 in the dabbling duck genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Anas. If this is split up, all wigeons will go into their old genus Mareca again. It is a common and widespread duck
Duck
Duck is the common name for a large number of species in the Anatidae family of birds, which also includes swans and geese. The ducks are divided among several subfamilies in the Anatidae family; they do not represent a monophyletic group but a form taxon, since swans and geese are not considered...

 which breeds in all but the extreme north of Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 and also in the Interior West through Idaho
Idaho
Idaho is a state in the Rocky Mountain area of the United States. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state....

, Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

, the Dakotas, and Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

, as well as eastern Washington and Oregon
Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

. It is the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

 counterpart of the Eurasian Wigeon. The conservation status of this bird is Least Concern
Least Concern
Least Concern is an IUCN category assigned to extant taxon or lower taxa which have been evaluated but do not qualify for any other category. As such they do not qualify as threatened, Near Threatened, or Conservation Dependent...

.

This dabbling duck is migratory
Bird migration
Bird migration is the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular or in only one direction...

 and winters farther south than its breeding range, in the southern half of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Idaho
Idaho
Idaho is a state in the Rocky Mountain area of the United States. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state....

, Washington, Oregon
Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

, and the Mid-Atlantic
Mid-Atlantic States
The Mid-Atlantic states, also called middle Atlantic states or simply the mid Atlantic, form a region of the United States generally located between New England and the South...

 coastal region, and further south into Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

 and northwestern South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

. It is a rare but regular vagrant to western Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. It is highly gregarious outside of the breeding season and will form large flocks.

The American Wigeon is a medium-sized bird; it is larger than a teal, but smaller than a pintail. In silhouette, the wigeon can be distinguished from other dabblers by its round head, short neck, and small bill. It is 42 – long, with a 76–91 cm (29.9–35.8 in) wingspan and a weight of 512–1330 g (1.1–2.9 lb). This wigeon has two adult molt per year and a juvenile molt in the first year, as well.

The breeding male (drake) is a striking bird with a mask of green feathers around its eyes and a cream colored cap running from the crown of its head to its bill. This white patch gives the wigeon its other common name, baldpate (pate is another word for head). Their belly is also white. In flight, drakes can be identified by the large white shoulder patch on each wing. These white patches flash as the birds bank and turn. In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake looks more like the female.

The hens are much less conspicuous, having primarily gray and brown plumage
Feather
Feathers are one of the epidermal growths that form the distinctive outer covering, or plumage, on birds and some non-avian theropod dinosaurs. They are considered the most complex integumentary structures found in vertebrates, and indeed a premier example of a complex evolutionary novelty. They...

. Both sexes have a pale blue bill with a black tip, a white belly, and gray legs and feet. The wing patch behind the speculum is gray. They can be distinguished from most ducks, apart from Eurasian Wigeon, by shape. However, that species has a darker head and all grey underwing. The head and neck coloring of the female is different as opposed to the Eurasian Wigeon. It nests on the ground, near water and under cover. It lays 6–12 creamy white eggs. Flocks will often contain American Coot
American Coot
The American Coot is a bird of the family Rallidae, inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies. Measuring in length and across the wings, adults have a short thick white bill and white frontal shield, which usually has a reddish-brown spot near the top of the bill between the eyes...

s.

The American Wigeon is a noisy species, and in the field can often be identified by their distinctive calls. Drakes produce a three note whistle, while hens emit hoarse grunts and quacks. The male whistle makes a whoee-whoe-whoe, whereas the female has a low growl qua-ack.

The American Wigeon is a bird of open wetland
Wetland
A wetland is an area of land whose soil is saturated with water either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands are categorised by their characteristic vegetation, which is adapted to these unique soil conditions....

s, such as wet grassland or marsh
Marsh
In geography, a marsh, or morass, is a type of wetland that is subject to frequent or continuous flood. Typically the water is shallow and features grasses, rushes, reeds, typhas, sedges, other herbaceous plants, and moss....

es with some taller vegetation, and usually feeds by dabbling for plant food or grazing, which it does very readily. While on the water, wigeon often gather with feeding coots and divers, and are notorious for grabbing pieces of vegetation brought to the surface by diving water birds. For this reason, they are sometimes called “poacher” or “robber” ducks. Wigeon also commonly feed on dry land, eating waste grain in harvested fields and grazing on pasture grasses, winter wheat, clover, and lettuce. Having a largely vegetarian diet, most wigeon migrate in the fall well before northern marshes begin to freeze.

Wigeon have an extensive breeding range stretching from the Western United States to the Arctic. The majority of the population breeds on wetlands in the Boreal Forest and subartic 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.

In 2009, an estimated 2.5 million breeding wigeon were tallied in the traditional survey area—a level just below the 1955-2009 average. In recent decades, wigeon numbers have declined in the prairie-parkland region of Canada and increased in the interior and west coast of Alaska. Wigeon are often the fifth most commonly harvested duck in the United States, behind mallards, green-winged teal, gadwalls, and wood ducks.

Identification

  • Harrop,A. 1994. Field identification of American Wigeon. Birding World 7:50–56.
  • Jiquet, F. 1999. Photo forum: Hybrid American Wigeons. Birding World 12:247–252.
  • Larkin, P. 2000. Eyelid colour of American Wigeon. British Birds 93:39–40.
  • Votier, S.C., A.H.J. Harrop, and M.Denny. 2003. A review of status and identification of American Wigeon in Britain and Ireland British Birds
    British Birds (magazine)
    British Birds is a monthly ornithology magazine that was established in 1907. It is now published by BB 2000 Ltd, which is wholly owned by The British Birds Charitable Trust , established for the benefit of British ornithology...

    96: 2–22 (requries registration to view full article)
  • Cox, Cameron and Jessie Barry Aging of American and Eurasian Wigeons in female-type plumages Birding
    Birding (magazine)
    Birding is the bimonthly members' magazine of the American Birding Association. While not a formal journal, Birding offers enthusiasts in-depth and scholarly articles on field identification and bird conservation. Each issue also features tips on North American and foreign birdfinding, news in the...

    37(2):156-164

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