Eurasian Wigeon

Mareca penelope

From a folio of Scandinavian birds
Rufous-brown head and buffy forehead
Old World counterpart of American Wigeon
Rare winter visitor to Salter Grove
Also seen elsewhere in Rhode Island
Pair feeding in intertidal zone; Gangwon, S. Korea
Female easy to identify when paired with male but ...
... when alone can be confused with American Wigeon female
Once eggs are laid, male leaves female to care for young
Benefits from effort of larger dabblers like Canada Goose
Often with American Wigeons
Lone redhead in crowd of American Wigeons
Eurasian Wigeon, left; American Widgeon, right
Drinking buddies!
Intercontinental romance--female American and male European Wigeons paired
Male hybrid has green on rufous-brown head

The Eurasian Wigeon, a duck that nests in the northern regions of the Palearctic, has been a rare winter visitor to Salter Grove.  It was first seen in 2012 and then again in 2019, both times in April but by different observers.  Extrapolating from information collected in banding studies, the individuals seen in the park were likely from Iceland.

In North America, the Asian Wigeon is most often found in the company of American Wigeons, its nearest relative.  Males of the two species are easily distinguished.  The Eurasian Wigeon male has a rufous-brown head and buffy forehead whereas the American Wigeon has a gray head with a brilliant green mask and contrasty white forehead.  When hybrids occur, plumage of the male offspring is intermediate between the two parental species.

Females of both species are a bit more difficult to tell apart if they are not paired with males.   A female American Wigeon has a more scaly-looking head and a strip of black at the base of the bill. The female European Wigeon has a more uniformly brown head and lacks the strip of black at the base of the bill.

Both Wigeons are dabblers, feeding on stems and leaves of aquatic vegetation year-round.  Both species prefer to breed in northern wetlands where females supplement their plant diet with aquatic invertebrates to provide the protein needed for laying the large clutches of 6-12 eggs.

During the winter, both species can be found feeding on waste grain in wet farm fields, or on vegetation in freshwater marshes, estuaries, and sheltered coastal water.