American wigeon are a medium-sized dabbling duck, and males have a distinctive white patch on their head that historically gave them the nickname “baldpate.” This species can be aggressive when competing for food and is a highly flexible forager, equally at home stealing food from diving ducks in deep water or grazing on turf grasses in urban areas.
American wigeons occur across all four North American flyways, but they are most abundant in the Pacific and Central flyways. Nesting occurs primarily on the ground in the northern tundra, boreal forest, and prairie parklands of Canada with abundance in areas of the Prairie Pothole Region increasing. American wigeons migrate and reach their wintering grounds earlier than other species of dabbling ducks, excepting blue-winged teal. They begin their southward migration in late August to early September with their destination in the Central Flyway being primarily Texas and Mexico and central California in the Pacific Flyway.
These ducks are common on small “cattle ponds” throughout the Great Plains and will use managed moist-soil wetlands, playas, and agricultural areas during migration and winter periods. American wigeons seek to feed on submersed aquatic vegetation, but they can also be seen waddling on land grazing on turf grass and other low-growing vegetation. Many national wildlife refuges purposely flood some managed wetlands in early fall for early migrants, such as American wigeon, to provide food and sanctuary conditions.
The American wigeon diet consists largely of aquatic plant material. Known for being opportunistic, they will feed in close proximity to diving ducks and swans to steal plant matter those species bring to the surface. Flocks can also sometimes be seen grazing for food on land more often than other duck species. There is an increase in consumption of animal matter, such as snails and water beetles, during breeding season by females preparing for egg laying.
How you can help
You can help this species and other waterfowl by purchasing a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. The Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp is a nonprofit organization that supports promotion, preservation, sales, and better understanding of the Federal Duck Stamp’s conservation mission.
Subject matter experts
- Heath Hagy, Waterfowl Ecologist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal Register notices
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