Visiting Wigeons

American Wigeons, male (left) and female (Mareca americana)

American Wigeons on their spring migration tend to travel in small groups. One of those groups, not more than a dozen strong, foraged for submerged vegetation at low tide in the morning this week, side by side with a handful of Mallards. At this kind of work, the Mallards have an advantage. Their broader bills and more developed filtering structures in the bill allow the Mallards to plow through mud in search of edibles that they filter out. The wigeons’ narrower bills are better adapted to tearing vegetation, and in other settings they forage on lawns, fields, and meadows. Here they might well have spent time on the grasslands around the North Basin, but I happened to see them in the water near the Schoolhouse Creek outfall (map).

Most of the wigeons I saw looked to be part of a pair. When they come down here in the fall, only about a fourth or less are paired up. Mate selection goes on all winter long, and on the eve of the return migration in Spring, about 80 percent or more are linked with a mate. There’s generally a surplus of males, so it’s common for all females to be paired but many males, not. They’ll probably fly north in short hops all the way to the tundra and the boreal forests in Alaska and Canada to do their breeding and nesting. The males will generally stay with the females a week or two into the brooding time, and then take off to molt. The female commonly stays with the hatchlings for six to seven weeks until they can fly.

American Wigeon male (Mareca americana)

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