Bird Lore: American Wigeon

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Ducks are starting to return to Edmonds and the American Wigeon has already been sighted in the marsh over the last few days. This dabbling duck is present most of the year on our larger fresh water ponds, in fields, and along the waterfront. It only retreats from our locale for the several months that it is on its inland breeding grounds.

The American Wigeon is a versatile and opportunistic forager. It consumes mostly plant materials such as pondweed, sedges, eel grass, and algae. It also eats some snails and insects. On land, it will graze on young grass shoots, seeds, and waste grains. When on deeper saltwater, this wigeon will associate with diving ducks, snatching their food when they come to the surface.

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Pair formation begins in winter. Courtship displays by the male involve extending its neck forward with the head low and bill open, while raising the tips of its folded wings to reveal its white wing patches. Its breeding grounds cover much of Canada, the upper prairies of the contiguous U.S., as well as parts of Alaska. The nest site is on dry land, usually within 100 feet of water. Sometimes the nest is on an island. The nest site is concealed by tall vegetation. The female makes a shallow depression filled with grasses, leaves, and down. She typically lays 8 – 11 eggs and incubates them by herself for a little more than three weeks. The male usually leaves before the eggs hatch. The young leave the nest soon after hatching and are capable of feeding themselves. The female remains with the brood until the young are able to fly, usually 45 – 63 days after hatching.

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The American Wigeon was once known as the Baldpate because the whitish stripe on the male’s head resembles a bald man’s head. This species is widely hunted during the U.S. fall waterfowl hunting season. Some studies show its population is in decline and others show it is stable or expanding. Its conservation status is least concern.

You can listen to the call of an American Wigeon at this site: http://www.xeno-canto.org/17795.

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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