Visiting the Estuary Now, An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, the "American Wiigeon"
Feb 08, 2017 08:42PM
● By Paul Spear
This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the American wigeon (Anas americana), a species of dabbling ducks found in North America. The American wigeon is a medium-sized bird; it is larger than a teal, but smaller than a pintail. In silhouette, the wigeon can be distinguished from other dabblers by its round head, short neck, and small bill. It is 42–59 cm (17–23 in) long, with a 76–91 cm (30–36 in) wingspan and a weight of 512–1,330 g (1.129–2.932 lb). The breeding male (drake) is a striking bird with a mask of green feathers around its eyes and a cream colored cap running from the crown of its head to its bill. This white patch gives the wigeon its other common name, baldpate (pate is another word for head). Their belly is also white. Populations are apparently stable. Since about the 1930s the breeding range has expanded eastward somewhat in eastern Canada and the northeastern states.
Habitat is on marshes, lakes, bays, and in fields. In summer they are found mainly on inland
marshes, especially larger marshes, and not often on small ponds. In migration and winter, they are found on coastal estuaries, fresh or salt marshes, and inland lakes and ponds. They may winter on large deep lakes. While most dabbling ducks are denizens of the shallows, American Wigeons spend much of their time in flocks grazing on land. Paradoxically, they also spend more time than other marsh ducks on deep water, where they get much of their food by stealing it from other birds such as coots or diving ducks. This duck was once known as "Baldpate" because of its white crown.
American wigeons are versatile in foraging. Flocks often feed on land, or on shallow water, taking items from the surface or submerging their head and neck; but also associates with diving birds on deeper water, robbing them of their food when they come to the surface. They may feed by day or night. Diet is mostly plant material, eating aquatic plants such as pondweeds, sedges, wild celery, and eelgrass, algae. They also eat some insects and snails. On land, they graze on young grass shoots, and consume seeds and waste grains. Very young ducklings eat many insects.
After mating, females lay 8-11, sometimes 5-12, whitish eggs. Incubation is by females only, in
about 23-24 days. Males usually depart before eggs hatch. Young leave their nests shortly after hatching, and feed themselves. Females remain with broods for much of their pre-flight stage. Young are capable of flight in about 45-63 days after hatching.
Pair formation begins on wintering grounds, with most older birds paired before spring migration. Several males often court one female. In one display, males extend their necks forward with their head low, and bills open, while raising the tips of their folded wings, revealing white wing patches. They tend to begin nesting later in season than most dabblers. Nest sites are on dry land, sometimes on islands, usually within 100' of water, but sometimes up to 1/2 mile away. Nesting sites are concealed by tall vegetation. Nests (built by females) are a shallow depression filled with grasses and weeds, and lined with down.
This is the best time of year to spot ducks in our own Tijuana Estuary. I saw several of these, along with many other ducks, there recently. Enjoy a walk of bicycle ride along the many trails there. Until next week, happy birding!
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