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American Wigeon
Anas americana
– Family
Authors: Mowbray, Thomas

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American Wigeon, male, breeding plumage; December
Figure 1. Distribution of the American Wigeon in North and Middle America.

The American Wigeon, commonly known as the “Baldpate,” is one of the most northerly dabbling ducks, breeding from the Bering Sea to Hudson Bay and from the tundra edge south to the southern prairies. Highest breeding densities occur in the western Canadian Prairie-Parklands and the Mackenzie Delta and Old Crow Flats in northern Yukon and Northwest Territories. Wintering populations are densest in the Pacific Northwest, throughout the central valleys of California and southern high plains of Texas–New Mexico.

Courtship displays highlight the colorful plumage on the head, wings, and rump of males, and serve to attract females and intimidate other males. Pair bonds, which form primarily on the wintering grounds, are strong, persisting well into incubation at which point males abandon females and migrate to larger bodies of water to molt.

The American Wigeon is an aggressive and opportunistic forager, distinguished from other Anas species by several morphological characteristics of the bill that facilitate grazing. Its diet consists largely of plant material, with a significant proportion of animal matter only for females during early stages of breeding. During winter, in migration, and upon arrival on the breeding grounds, American Wigeon spend a large portion of their time grazing in upland agricultural areas. On the water, primarily in wintering areas, they may be closely associated with American Coots (Fulica americana) and various species of diving ducks, pilfering plant material brought to the surface by these species as they themselves are not proficient divers.

Social behavior, feeding ecology, and diet over the annual cycle have been well studied in this species, and a solid background established for various aspects of its breeding ecology, habitat utilization, and patterns of activity on its wintering grounds. Because it tends to nest secretively at low densities in thick vegetation, however, many aspects of its nesting behavior and success remain poorly understood.

Following a decline in population in the early 1980s (3.5 to 1.8 million) during a protracted widescale drought in the prairies, North America’s American Wigeon population has steadily increased to over 3.1 million by 1997, owing to improved habitat conditions during the mid-1990s in western North America and a continued expansion of the breeding range eastward.