The male Eurasian wigeon (Mareca penelope) sports a distinctive look. His head is marked by contrast, thanks to his red-brown face, buffy cap, and blue-gray bill. But the remainder of his body is not less striking. His breast is a deep pink. At a distance, his back and sides may appear to be gray overall, but this is due to fine black-and-white barring all over his feathers. This pattern terminates in solid white, which then gives way to a solid black tail. In flight, note the white forewings and metallic green speculum.
The female comes in two varieties—more grayish and more reddish. Overall, however, she is some shade of brown, almost black on the wings and sometimes the top of the head. Her “wingpits” are dark and her speculum is black.
Young Eurasian wigeons sometimes display a grayish speculum.
Best Field Marks
- Red-brown head of male.
- Generally gray body of male.
- Reddish-brown head of female.
- Dark “wingpits” of female.
The male Eurasian wigeon gives a high-pitched whistle similar to whee-oo. The female quacks or croaks when disturbed, and also purrs.
Distribution & Occurrence
The Eurasian wigeon is not too common in the United States, but may pop up just about anywhere on occasion. A handful have been spotted in Kansas at various times in the following counties:
Most sightings have been from mid-March to mid-April, but there have been some later sightings, as well.
The Eurasian wigeon is a dabbling duck, frequently feeding in mud or shallow water. However, it also walks with ease and is quite comfortable foraging in fields and wooded areas away from the water. Its favorite foods are aquatic leaves and stems, but it will also eat seeds, snails, and small insects.
Eurasian wigeons will come to decoys. However, they are not widespread enough to present much opportunity for either the hunter or the birdwatcher.
Distinguishing breeding males is easy—the American wigeon has a gray head, white crown, and brilliant green patch extending from the eye toward the back of the head. Females and immature ducks are extremely difficult to tell apart. Pretty much your only hope is to get a look at the underside of the wing while the duck is in flight. The axillaries (or “wingpits”) of the American wigeon are white, not dark gray as in the Eurasian wigeon.
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.