American Wigeon

American Wigeon, Baldpate

Anas americana

Field Markings: 18 to 23 inches long. A medium-sized duck with a light blue bill. The male has a brown head with a green patch and a white crown. In flight, a large white patch is on the forewing. The female is mostly brown, with gray head and neck.

Habitat: Marshes, inland coastal waters

Seasonal Appearance: Migratory; fall and winter

Sensitivity to Human Action







Distinguishing Features and Behaviors:

            The American Wigeon is a medium-sized dabbling duck, often found interacting with other dabbling ducks such as mallards and American black ducks.   They are also occasionally found near diving ducks such as the bufflehead and the common goldeneye.

            The male, or drake, is identified by his white crown, earning the nickname “baldpate”. In flight, wigeons have a large white patch on the forewing. The males of most North American species of waterfowl, including the America wigeon, molt their feathers after mating season, exchanging colorful breeding plumage for a dull, drab appearance. The dull appearance during molting is referred to as the eclipse plumage. In this state, the drake appears similar to the wigeon hen because the drake loses the white feathers of the crown.

            American wigeons feed mostly on aquatic vegetation such as wild celery and eelgrass. They graze on tubers, seeds, and stalks by dabbling with their tail upright out of the water. These ducks are notorious for stealing vegetation from other diving ducks including scaup, redheads, and mergansers.

Relationship to People:

            The American wigeon had not established breeding grounds in Narragansett Bay; however, it has recently begun breeding on the AtlanticCoast. Despite the absence of breeding grounds, Narragansett Bay hosts the largest transient wigeon population in New England. Over 1,200 wigeons have been observed roosting in Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island waters during their fall migration.

            Because American wigeons feed on submerged vegetation, they are susceptible to ingesting lead pellets from gunshots. These pellets dissolve in the digestive system, gradually allowing lead to enter the blood stream. Lead poisoning is a common cause of death among dabbling ducks.