American Wigeon
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

American Wigeon

Medium-sized dabbling duck 18” to 23” long with an average wingspan of 34”. A drake’s mostly brown body plumage is punctuated with white shoulder patches; the head has green swoosh-like ear patches and a white crown. Hens are flecked brown with off-white shoulder patches and a gray head. Both have a whitish belly and a light blue bill.


Freshwater wetlands, rivers and inlets.


American wigeons typically breed from Alaska east to central-southeastern Canada and south to the Great Lakes. Those entering the Atlantic Flyway migrate to the Chesapeake and points south in autumn, returning in early spring.


Aquatic plants and shoots of land plants.


Drakes whistle; hens make various quacking sounds. Listen to a sample (Requires RealPlayer)

Cool Facts:

The American wigeon is also known as the baldpate, perhaps a reference to the male’s white crown. They are extremely wary birds; even a minor disturbance will cause a flock to spring up from the water in unison, appearing to almost leap into flight. Wigeons are also famous food pirates, lurking on the sidelines as other waterfowl root up plants and then dashing in to steal the food away.

The decoy pictured is from the collection of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art and was photographed by Middleton Evans. Waterfowl sounds are courtesy of the Macaulay Lab of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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