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American Wigeon: Identification and Overview

April 22, 2023

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on the American Wigeon, a fascinating bird species found across North America. In this blog, we will delve into the American Wigeon's size and shape, color pattern, behavior, habitat, interesting facts, ecosystem services, and finally, wrap up with a conclusion. This educational resource will provide you with an in-depth understanding of this amazing bird, perfect for a college paper or simply to satisfy your curiosity.

Size and Shape

The American Wigeon is a medium-sized dabbling duck, with a body length of around 17 to 23 inches and a wingspan of approximately 31 to 35 inches. Males tend to be slightly larger than females. They have a round head with a steep forehead, giving them a distinctive profile compared to other ducks. These birds have a compact body with a short neck and a small, bluish-gray bill. The bill is shorter and wider at the base than those of other dabbling ducks, which helps them to efficiently graze on vegetation. Their wings are relatively short and pointed, allowing for agile flight maneuvers.

In flight, the American Wigeon displays a fast wingbeat and can be identified by the conspicuous white patch on the upper wing surface, known as the speculum. The speculum is bordered by a thin, iridescent green stripe, adding to their unique appearance.

Color Pattern

The American Wigeon's color pattern exhibits sexual dimorphism, meaning that males and females have different plumage. Males, also called drakes, are easily recognizable by their striking appearance. They have a green eye patch that extends from their eyes to the back of their head and a white crown, contrasting sharply with their otherwise dark face. The drake's breast is a pinkish-brown color, while its sides are a soft gray. The back is predominantly black, with white speckles present. The tail is also black, with a white patch visible when the bird is at rest or in flight. The legs and feet are grayish-blue.

Female American Wigeons, on the other hand, have a more muted coloration. They display a mottled brown plumage throughout their bodies, which helps them blend into their surroundings. However, they also possess the white wing patch seen in males, making them distinguishable in flight.


The American Wigeon is a dabbling duck, meaning it feeds primarily by tipping its head underwater to reach aquatic plants, while keeping its tail end in the air. However, unlike many other dabblers, the American Wigeon has a more diverse diet. They are known to graze on land, feeding on grasses and other terrestrial vegetation. These birds are also notorious for their kleptoparasitic behavior, often stealing food from other ducks, particularly diving ducks that bring food to the surface. This opportunistic feeding strategy enables the American Wigeon to access resources that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.

American Wigeons are social birds, often forming large flocks during migration and on wintering grounds. They can be found mixed with other species of dabbling ducks, such as Mallards and Northern Pintails. During the breeding season, however, they become more territorial, with males aggressively defending their chosen nesting sites.


The American Wigeon can be found in a variety of wetland habitats throughout North America. During the breeding season, they prefer shallow freshwater marshes, ponds, and lakes with abundant aquatic vegetation. They typically nest in grassy areas near the water's edge, often using the abandoned nests of other birds or constructing simple nests of grass and vegetation.

During migration, American Wigeons can be observed in a wider range of habitats, including coastal estuaries, mudflats, and even agricultural fields. They are adaptable birds and can make use of almost any shallow wetland area that provides sufficient food resources. In winter, they inhabit a diverse range of habitats, from freshwater ponds to brackish marshes and coastal bays. The availability of food, particularly aquatic vegetation and invertebrates, is a key factor determining their choice of wintering grounds.


  1. The American Wigeon's scientific name is Mareca americana, and it belongs to the family Anatidae, which includes ducks, geese, and swans.
  2. These birds have a wide distribution, breeding across much of Canada, Alaska, and the northern United States, and wintering as far south as Central America.
  3. The American Wigeon's call is a distinctive, high-pitched whistle, often described as a "whee-ooo" sound. The call is used by males to communicate with females and rivals during the breeding season.
  4. American Wigeons are known to form long-term pair bonds, with some pairs staying together for several years.
  5. The average lifespan of an American Wigeon in the wild is around 3 years, although some individuals have been known to live for more than a decade.

Ecosystem Services

The American Wigeon plays a significant role in the ecosystems it inhabits, providing essential ecosystem services. As herbivores, they help to control the growth of aquatic plants by consuming large quantities of vegetation. This grazing activity can benefit other wetland species by maintaining open water areas and promoting plant diversity.

In addition, the American Wigeon is an important prey species for many predators, such as raptors, foxes, and raccoons. By serving as a food source, they contribute to the overall health and balance of the ecosystems they inhabit.

Furthermore, their nesting habits create opportunities for other bird species to reuse their abandoned nests. This behavior can have a positive impact on the overall nesting success of wetland birds, which often face limited nesting sites.


The American Wigeon is a captivating bird species, notable for its unique appearance, diverse diet, and adaptable nature. As an important component of North American wetland ecosystems, they play a critical role in maintaining ecological balance and providing essential services. The study of the American Wigeon not only deepens our understanding of the natural world but also highlights the importance of conserving these vital habitats for future generations.