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Eurasian Wigeon Life History

Habitat

Habitat Lakes and PondsEurasian Wigeons breed in shallow wetlands of Eurasia, usually in freshwater marshes, ponds, and lakes set in northern forests and places where forests give way to tundra. These wetlands are rich in insects and other invertebrates. In the nonbreeding season, Eurasian Wigeons migrate over land, down river systems, and over the ocean, setting down in a great variety of wetland habitats, including wet farm fields, during the journey. In North America, the species winters in freshwater lakes and marshes, saltmarshes, brackish lagoons, estuaries, bays, and other sheltered coastal sites. Like other dabbling ducks, they often show up at high-elevation lakes, so long as the lakes are not completely frozen.Back to top

Food

Food Plants

Eurasian Wigeons eat primarily aquatic and terrestrial plants, including leaves, stems, roots, rhizomes, and seeds. They sometimes feed at night. To reach food below the water’s surface, they dabble: they submerge the head by tipping up, gather the food, then return to the surface to swallow. Where submerged aquatic vegetation is abundant, Eurasian Wigeons sometime linger near swans or geese and eat the excess vegetation that these larger species bring to the surface. They often feed on grasses, grains, and seeds on land as well, either carefully grazing one small area while standing or walking along briskly and snapping up food as they go. Among their known plant foods in North America are wigeon grass, cattail, sedge, duckweed, and water milfoil, but they also eat cultivated rice, wheat, potato, and barley. In Eurasia, they eat seaside alkali-grass, glasswort, and eelgrass in the nonbreeding season. During the breeding season, they eat mayflies, midges, caddisflies, beetles, and tiny mollusks and crustaceans. Females and ducklings are especially dependent on invertebrates during the summer.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest GroundNests are set in shallow depressions on the ground, usually not far from a small pond or marsh but sometimes are located more upland.

Nest Description

The female lines the nest depression with grasses, then with down from her breast.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:6-12 eggs
Egg Description:6–12 (but usually 8–9 eggs, buffy in color
Condition at Hatching:Hatchlings are covered in down and able to walk soon after hatching.
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Behavior

Behavior DabblerAs spring arrives across their vast breeding grounds, small flocks of Eurasian Wigeons begin courtship and pairing off to breed, though some are already paired on arrival. Multiple males may court the same female. Courtship involves raising the wingtips above the tail to reveal the white forewing patch, elevating the bill, then lowering it to show off the crown patch, all the while delivering soft, piping calls. Males guard females from the moment they pair up through the start of the incubation period but depart breeding grounds once the female has laid eggs. The female selects the nest site, builds the nest, and tends the ducklings until they fledge. This species is not very territorial and often nests near others of its kind. After breeding, males gather in flocks to molt and migrate. The male’s striking breeding plumage is replaced from late summer through autumn with a rich reddish chestnut, but he retains the white forewing patch. Females and juveniles gather in flocks and join males a bit later in summer. During migration and winter, flock behavior is generally peaceable, though males are dominant over females and often jostle with one another in courtship displays in late winter.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low Concern

Eurasian Wigeons are scarce in North America but widespread and relatively common across the Old World. Partners in Flight estimates a worldwide breeding population of 2 million and rates the species a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Despite recreational hunting, drainage of wetlands, and development of both breeding and wintering habitats, most populations appear to be stable, with the exception of sharp declines in Russia and the Middle East since the 1980s.

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Credits

Bellrose, F. C. (1980). Ducks, geese, and swans of North America. Rev. ed. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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