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What Is a Wigeon?

Britt Archer
Britt Archer

The four types of wigeon belong to a class of waterfowl called dabbling ducks, and “dabbling” is a good description of the way this kind of duck feeds. A wigeon, sometimes written widgeon, will flip himself over to feed in shallow bodies of water, with only his tail end showing above the water line as he dabbles around in the area for food. This trait distinguishes him from diving ducks, which will fully immerse themselves in deeper water, diving and swimming for their food. The four different types of wigeons, distinguished by their geographic location, are the Cape, the Chiloe, the Eurasian and the American.

The Cape wigeon, found in Africa, searches shallow waterways for his food at night, unlike other wigeons, who are daytime feeders. The Chiloe, which lives in South America, is distinguished by the fact that the male of the species takes part in rearing its offspring, a task many male ducks do not perform. The American wigeon, as its name implies, can be found in North America, specifically the northwestern region during breeding season, and it flies to the Caribbean and Mexico during North America’s coldest months. The Eurasian wigeon’s geographic range is broad and can sometimes include the Pacific coast of North America, as well as Florida, Texas, Newfoundland and Labrador, although they do not breed in North America. Most of them spend winters in Great Britain, Russia, Africa, India, Japan, the Philippines and Formosa.


The Eurasian wigeon, also known as Anas penelope, weighs in at about 1.6 pounds (0.72 kilograms) for males and can reach a length of slightly more than 19 inches (48.26 centimeters), and 1.4 pounds (0.63 kilograms) for females, which can grow to a length of 17.9 inches (45.46 centimeters). The male has a beige stripe down the middle of his head that bisects a rust-colored patch. The American, known as Anas americana, can reach 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) in length and grow to about 1.8 pounds (0.81 kilograms), and the female can grow to 19 inches (48.26 centimeters) in length and weigh about 1.6 pounds (0.72 kilograms). The males can be distinguished by a band of shiny green that stretches from the rear of their head to their eye.

The Cape wigeon, Anas capensis, also known as the pink-billed teal, the pink-billed duck and the cape teal, can be distinguished by the distinctive color of its bill, which observers should not confuse with the red bill sported by some ducks, such as the red-billed teal. Unlike others of its species, it has been known to dive for its food, and it can grow to about 14 inches (35.56 centimeters) and reach a weight of between 11 and 18 ounces (0.31 and 0.51 kilograms). The Chiloe, Anas sibilatrix, also known as the Chilean widgeon or Southern wigeon, possesses a black tail and bill, and it can reach 17 to 21 inches (43.18 and 53.34 centimeters) in length and reach a weight of 2 pounds (0.90 kilograms). The sides of its head are distinguished by markings of green iridescence.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a wigeon?

A wigeon is a medium-sized duck belonging to the genus Anas. There are three species: the American wigeon, the Eurasian wigeon, and the Chiloé wigeon. They are known for their distinctive whistling calls and are commonly found in wetlands and marshes where they feed on aquatic plants and occasionally insects.

How can you identify a wigeon?

Wigeons can be identified by their round heads and small bills. The male Eurasian wigeon has a chestnut head with a creamy crown, while the American wigeon male has a green eye patch. Females are generally mottled brown. In flight, wigeons show white patches on their wings, which are visible in both sexes.

What is the habitat of a wigeon?

Wigeons are commonly found in wetlands, including marshes, lakes, and estuaries. They prefer shallow waters rich in vegetation. During migration, they can also be seen in coastal bays and agricultural fields. They breed in the northern regions and winter in milder climates, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

What do wigeons eat?

Wigeons primarily feed on aquatic plants, making up about 80% of their diet. They also consume grasses and when available, they will eat agricultural crops such as grains. During the breeding season, they may eat more insects and invertebrates to gain additional protein, as per the Audubon Society's dietary observations.

Are wigeons social birds?

Yes, wigeons are quite social and are often seen in large flocks, especially during migration and in their wintering grounds. They may mix with other species of ducks and can be quite gregarious. Their social behavior is particularly evident during the non-breeding season.

How do wigeons reproduce?

Wigeons breed in the spring and summer, typically in the northern parts of their range. They nest on the ground, often in concealed locations near water. The female lays 6-12 eggs and incubates them for about three to four weeks. The ducklings are precocial and can leave the nest shortly after hatching to find food.

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