FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

American wigeon are a medium-sized dabbling duck. 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.

Scientific Name

Mareca americana
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

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.

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Physical Characteristics

While they can be an aggressive feeder with other waterfowl species, the American wigeon is a wary of the unknown and will flush easily. During hunting seasons, they tend to be even more wary and may become nocturnal feeders. 

Size & Shape

American wigeon are medium-sized ducks with a short bill and a round head. Males, in breeding plumage, have a brownish gray head with a wide green stripe behind the eye and a gleaming white cap or baldpate. The body is pale cinnamon with white patches on the sides of the rump that contrast with the black undertail feathers.

Measurements

Length: 16.5 to 23.2 in (42 to 59 cm)

Wingspan: 33.1 in (84 cm)

 

Color & Pattern

Males, in breeding plumage, have a brownish gray head with a wide green stripe behind the eye and a gleaming white cap or baldpate. The body is pale cinnamon with white patches on the sides of the rump that contrast with the black undertail feathers. Females are mottled brown with a brownish or grayish head. Both sexes have a pale blue bill.

Sound

One of the more vocal dabbling ducks with a whistled whew-whew-whew. Females have a loud kaow and a lower qua-awk. 

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

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.

Wetland
Lake
Urban
Rural
Wetland
Lake
Urban
Rural
Characteristic category

Behavior

Characteristics
Behavior

While they can be an aggressive feeder with other waterfowl species, the American wigeon is wary of the unknown and will flush easily. During hunting seasons, they tend to be even more wary and may become nocturnal feeders. 

Characteristic category

Life Cycle

Characteristics
Reproduction

Females will lay nine to 11 white to cream colored eggs in a nest lined in down feathers with a base of grasses. 

Geography

Characteristics
Range

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, except 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.

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