American Wigeon – The Duck That Eats Like a Goat

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American Wigeon, male
American Wigeon are vocal and energetic ducks common in Taylor County during the winter months.

Now that winter’s arrived, waterfowl are back in big numbers. One of those birds is an endearing duck called the American Wigeon.

Identification

American Wigeon, closeup of head, male
Focus on the head pattern of male American Wigeon to separate them from other ducks.

Male American Wigeon are best identified by their head pattern. A bold white stripe runs down the crown, a green mask wraps around the back of the head up over the eyes, and the sides of the face are finely marked in a series of intricate black and white lines that just looks gray from any distance. The sides of the duck have a pinkish tone, there’s a white patch on the back of the flanks, and the feathers under the tail are black. The bill is fairly small and goose-like, with a blue-gray tone.

Wigeon are dabbling ducks and are on the smaller side of the spectrum. While bigger than teal or Ruddy Ducks, they’re smaller than most dabbling ducks like Gadwall or Mallard. One of their most endearing traits is that birds give a distinct nasal whistle. It just sounds like they’re having fun. If there’s a group of wigeon around, you’ll usually hear them before you see them.

American Wigeon, female
Female American Wigeon have gray heads and brown bodies but are otherwise indistinct. Photo Mdf, via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Female American Wigeon are less distinct. The head is gray, the body brown, and the flanks are rusty in tone. Like males, the tail is longer and slightly pointed. Also like males, the bill is small.

Identifying female ducks can be tricky, but a couple of things help. First, learning the shape of a duck can really narrow down the choices. Female wigeon really are shaped differently than other species. Second, when trying to learn, look for the males which are usually nearby. It’s not a guarantee, but often there will be males of a species present as well, which can give you a clue which females are likely present.

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A Grazer of Grass

One of the things that makes wigeon unique is that they eat grass. Of course, lots of ducks do that, diving or bobbing under the water’s surface to reach that green goodness. Wigeon have refined the process though. They’ll happily munch away on grass or other vegetation that’s on land in addition to eating aquatic plants. What entrepreneurial ducks they are!

Common in Taylor County

American Wigeon nest in the “prairie pothole” region of the northern Great Plains and through most of Canada and Alaska. By October, they migrate to the southern half of America and into Mexico for the winter.

In Taylor County, the species is one of our most common ducks. They can be found on virtually any lake or pond, regardless of the size. They’re equally at home on larger bodies of water like Kirby Lake and Lake Abilene as they are on the small muddy stock tanks one finds driving the back roads.

If you ever see a group of ducks walking out of the water to graze on the grass nearby, there’s a good chance they’re wigeon.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>