A stocky, short-necked duck with a round head and pointed tail. The wigeon has a small grey bill with a black tip. The breeding male is unmistakable, with a distinctive chestnut head, creamy yellow forehead and crown, grey flanks and back, and a black rear end. The female wigeon is coloured similarly to female mallards, being a mottled brown or grey. This species is best recognised by the grey bill with a black tip.
Wigeons are largely vegetarian and surface feeders on leaves, stems, grass seeds and sedges. They also feed on aquatic plants, algae and eelgrasses in estuaries. Wigeon have even been known to graze arable fields nearby their freshwater habitat.
The wigeon is highly gregarious outside of the breeding season and gathers in large numbers, particularly on wet grasslands, floodplain meadows and along the coast. It is a noisy species. The male has a clear piercing whistle, both in flight, or on the ground, which sounds like – ‘pjiew pjiew’. The female has a low throat-clearing growl similar to a ‘rawr’.
- Length: 43-51cm
- Wingspan 75-86cm
- Weight: 500-900g
- Average Lifespan: 3 years
Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The distribution of wigeon is notably different during and after the breeding season. The breeding population is tiny (compared to the numbers in autumn and winter), with greatest concentrations found on lochs, marshes and bogs in Perth and Kinross, the Grampian Mountains, Orkney (Mainland), the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland and the Spey Valley.
When to see
Wigeon is more abundant, and widespread as a passage migrant in the autumn and winter, when non-breeding birds arrive from more northerly breeding grounds. During the breeding season (April-August), the distribution is restricted to specific sites.
- Wigeon has different identifying features depending on sex, age and season. A white belly patch is, however, distinctive in all plumages. Although easily recognisable in breeding plumage, in non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake looks more like the female. First years, resemble adults, but white underparts are faintly mottled.
- One theory for the origin of the wigeon’s binomial classification is that it is derived from Anas the Latin for “duck”, and Penelope, which refers to a species of duck (‘Penelops’ in archaic Greek), that was supposed to rescue her when she was thrown into the sea to drown by her father who considered her to be an unwelcome new born.