Order: Anseriformes Family: Anatidae Genus: Mareca
Species: Mareca americana
The American Wigeon or “Baldpate” is a common waterfowl species in Washington and popular game bird throughout North America, known for its excellent table fare. The white crown on the drake is the origin of its name sake as it gives the bird a bald appearance. These ducks are a welcome sight that signifies the fall migration as they arrive here by the thousands in fall to winter in the great Pacific Northwest.
Both male (drakes) and female (hens) American Wigeon have short round blue grey bills and slightly pointed tails. Both traits are often more pronounced in drakes. In flight the wings display a black tipped iridescent emerald green speculum on the secondaries with white secondary coverts above.
The hen is generally brown, with a light brown head with black speckling, the body, chest and shoulders are brown with dark brown edges. The cheast and flanks are brown while the breast and abdomen are grey and the tail covers are brown/grey with dark brown/black edges.
The mature drake’s breeding plumage has a distinctive head, with a white crown that begins at the forehead and extends to the nape and a deep iridescent emerald green mask stripe running from the eye to the nape. The lore and lower head to the base of the neck is tan with black speckling. The body, chest, back and sides are a cream brown while the abdomen and rump are white, and the tail coverts are black. In flight drakes display white marginal coverts and long white edged black Tertials in addition to the iridescent emerald green on the secondaries.
The non-breeding and adolescent males lack the distinctive head and as the entire head is tan with black speckling.
Length: 54 cm (21″)
Weight: 794 gm (1 3/4 lbs)
American Wigeon range throughout North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean and Hawaiian Islands with rare sightings though out the world.
The American Wigeon population in North America for 2018 was estimated at 2.8 ± 0.2 million which were similar to their 2017 estimates and in line with their long-term averages of 2.6 ± 0.02 million (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2018).
The ten-year average shows that the American Wigeon population in North America is at 1.054 annual increase in breeding pairs and an overall annual population increases of 1.098 (Wilson, Larned, and Swain, 2018).
Red List Catagory = Least Concern, (Birdlife International 2019).
Though Widgeon will nest in planted grasslands used for pasture and hay, nest success is greater in native grasslands and croplands planted to conversion as perennial grasslands (Davis, Ludlow, McMaster, October 2016).
Nest site location is also critical to brood successes. Vegetation height at the time of nesting is more critical than vegetation height at the time of hatching. (Ringelman, Skaggs, 2019). The proximity to water, and tall trees can also impact brood survival as predators (i.e cyotes, racoons, and skunks), are more successful on land and where elevated perches offer raptors better view of the new offspring. (Borgo, Conover, 2016)
Food habits are important detail of avian information, feeding habits of a species can greatly increase your chance of locating and positively identifying a species. Ultimately food, water, and shelter (protection from predators and elements) is what draws a bird to a particular place.
American Wigeon are among a category of ducks referred to as dabblers because of the feeing strategy of tipping their heads under water to feed instead of completely submerging to dive for food. They are one of the most vegetarian of all water fowl species and the short round bill has adapted to foraging on emergent vegetation and thus sacrificed the straining characteristics of many waterfowl species (fws.gov 2014), (Wishart, R. 1983).
American Wigeon are attracted to wetlands where tender shoots of grass have been recently submerged. Wigeon have been studied to use wild rice fields only immediately after it has been flooded and stop using the fields after 10-14 days (Aagaard, K. 2018).American Wigeon Feeding 5 Mar 19
In the Puget sound region Wigeon follow the water line as the tides rise and retreat feeding on aquatic vegetation particularly ell grass which is a critical food resources as the tide exposes the grass beds (Davenport, A. 2017).
While Wigeon prefer recently flooded and exposed vegetation they frequent fields and pastures where they often graze alongside geese.
The lack of premigratory fattening suggests that wigeon must obtain most of the resources necessary for reproduction in route to breeding grounds, and highlights the importance of suitable stopover locations on their migratory routes (Rhodes Jr. O., 2016).
Wigeon will feed on invertebrates to meet higher energy requirements during molt, and hens add invertebrates to their diet during egg production and incubation (Wishart, R. 1983).
American Wigeon winter in the thousands in the Northwest and have made the Puget sound their home in such abundant numbers that they have had an enormous impact on the way the Fraser River delta and Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuges are managed (Harrison, B., 2018), (fws.gov 2014).
Sound recorded at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge 14 Feb 2019 at 1500.
American Wigeon molt into alternate plumage in the late summer and fall and renew their pair bonds annually over the winter.
The timing of the first prealternate molt varies among individuals but by the time birds return to the breeding grounds in spring, all birds had attained 1st alternate plumage except for the wing which remained in juvenal plumage until mid-summer.
For a detailed description on American Wigeon molt see: Chapter 3 Chronology of molt in the American Wigeon, Page 79, The behavioral ecology of the American Wigeon (Anas americana) over its annual cycle, Wishart, Richard A. at http://hdl.handle.net/1993/4404 (Wishart, R. 1983).
Aagaard, K., Eash, J., Ford, W. et al. (2018, March 9)., Modeling the Relationship between Water Level, Wild Rice Abundance, and Waterfowl Abundance at a Central North American Wetland, https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-018-1025-6
Bethke, R.W., Nudds, T.D., (1995, August 1), Effects of Climate Change and Land Use on Duck Abundance in Canadian Prairie‐Parklands, (Ecological Applications) (Volume 5), (Issue 3), Pages 588-600, https://doi.org/10.2307/1941969
Birdlife International (2019) Species factsheet: Mareca americana. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 05/03/2019.
Borgo, J. S., Conover, M.R., (2016, March 1), Influence of Shelterbelts on Success and Density of Waterfowl Nests within the Prairie Pothole Region of North America, (Waterbirds),(Volume 39), (Issue 1), Pages 7, https://doi.org/10.1675/063.039.0109
Davenport, A. E., Davis, J. D., Woo, I., Grossman, E. E., Barham, J., Ellings, C. S., Takekawa, J.Y., (2017, August 1), Comparing Automated Classification and Digitization Approaches to Detect Change in Eelgrass Bed Extent During Restoration of a Large River Delta, (Northwest Science), (Volume 91) (Issue 3) Pages 272-282, https://doi.org/10.3955/046.091.0307
Davis, S. K., Ludlow, S. M., McMaster, D. G. (2016, October 26), Reproductive success of songbirds and waterfowl in native mixed-grass pasture and planted grasslands used for pasture and hay, (The Condor),(Volume 118) (Issue 4), Pages 815-834, https://bioone.org/journals/the-condor/volume-118/issue-4/CONDOR-16-16.1/Reproductive-success-of-songbirds-and-waterfowl-in-native-mixed-grass/10.1650/CONDOR-16-16.1.full
Harrison, B., Buffett, D., Petrie, M., Christensen, M., (2018, April 4) “Using a bioenergetic model to set waterfowl habitat objectives for the Fraser River delta”. Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. 92. https://cedar.wwu.edu/ssec/2018ssec/allsessions/92/
Middleton, H. A., Butler, R. W., Davidson, P., (2018, March 1) Waterbirds Alter their Distribution and Behavior in the Presence of Bald Eagles, (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), (Northwestern Naturalist), (Volume 99), (Issue 1), Pages 21-30 https://doi.org/10.1898/NWN16-21.1
Raftovich, R.V., S. C. Chandler, and K.K. Fleming. 2018. Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 hunting seasons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, Maryland, USA, https://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/pdf/surveys-and-data/HarvestSurveys/MBHActivityHarvest2016-17and2017-18.pdf
Rhodes Jr, O.E., DeVault, T. L., Smith, L.M., (2006, May 15),Seasonal variation in carcass composition of American Wigeon wintering in the Southern High Plains, (Journal of Field Ornithology) (Volume 77), (Issue 2) Pages 220-228, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1557-9263.2006.00044.x
Ringelman K. M. and Skaggs, C. G., (2019, January 21) Vegetation phenology and nest survival: Diagnosing heterogeneous effects through time, (Ecology and Evolution), (Volume 9), (Issue 4), Pages 2121-2130, https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4906
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (2014, October 8), A Most Vegetarian Duck, https://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147558415
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2018, August 20), Waterfowl population status, 2018. U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C. USA. https://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/pdf/surveys-and-data/Population-status/Waterfowl/WaterfowlPopulationStatusReport18.pdf
Wilson, H, M., Larned, W.W., Swaim, M.A., (2018, October), Abundance and Trends of Water bird Breeding Populations on the Arctic Coastal Plain, Alaska, 1986-2017 https://www.fws.gov/alaska/mbsp/mbm/waterfowl/surveys/pdf/2014-2017_ACP_Breeding_Pair.pdf
Wishart, R. A., (1983, March 31), The behavioral ecology of the American Wigeon (Anas americana) over its annual cycle, http://hdl.handle.net/1993/4404