Bird Lore: Eurasian Wigeon

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Eurasian Wigeon (Photo by Carol Riddell)

The Eurasian Wigeon is an uncommon winter visitor to the West Coast of North America. It associates with flocks of American Wigeon. Although still uncommon, Eurasian Wigeon numbers have been slowly increasing over the years and it can be seen in or around Edmonds usually each year. If you don’t have the means to see it in Siberia in summer, or Japan and the coast of China in winter, you might find it in Edmonds at the Marsh, along the waterfront, or at the Pine Ridge Park pond. It can be seen reliably in winter on the nearby ponds of the Lynnwood Golf Course.

The American Wigeon male has a large green patch on the side of its head and rusty sides. The bright chestnut-colored head of the Eurasian Wigeon male pops right out in a flock of American Wigeons. It is also distinguished by its pinkish chest and silvery-gray flanks. Wherever the American Wigeon swims, waddles or forages, so does the Eurasian Wigeon.

Along with the American Wigeon, the Eurasian Wigeon favors marshes, lakes, bays and fields. As a puddle duck, it forages by dabbling on the water’s surface, sometimes submerging its head and neck. It also grazes on land. It eats a wide variety of plant materials, as well as some insects in summer. It feeds by day or night.

Photo by LeRoy VanHee

Although it is not known to breed in North America, there are Eurasian x American Wigeon hybrids seen every year in North America. Are they mixing it up in far western Alaska and far eastern Siberia? At this time only the ducks know for sure. Male courtship displays include lifting the tips of its folded wings to expose its white wing patches, raising its head while calling, and lowering its bill to display its buffy crown to the female.

The nest site is on the ground under dense vegetation. It is usually near water and is nothing more than a shallow depression lined with grass and down. The female incubates her 8-9 eggs for 24-25 days. The young leave the nest and go to water shortly after hatching. They are tended by the female but find their own food. The young take their first flight at 40-45 days.

The oldest known Eurasian Wigeon was a male, banded in California in 2007 and shot in the same state in 2016. It was 10 years 7 months of age. Collective nouns for all ducks include flock (in flight), brace (on the ground) and raft (on the water).

There is little information available on Eurasian Wigeon population trends in North America. The species is not on the 2016 watch list for North America’s birds. Worldwide, it has a conservation status of least concern from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The call of a male Eurasian Wigeon can be heard here: http://www.xeno-canto.org/110737. Its song is here: http://www.xeno-canto.org/233482. The American Wigeon has been called the happy whistler. Vocalizations of its Old World counterpart share that characteristic.

— 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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