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 Wigeon - Fact File
male (above) femalemale
Anas penelope
Local breeder (about 500 pairs), chiefly in Scotland. In winter, widespread and abundant (150,000) to most parts of Britain and Ireland.
Breeds by rivers and lakes, and in winter found in estuaries, lakes and flooded grassland

Male has grey body, black and white rear, chestnut head with yellowish forecrown. Female much plainer, but has the characterictic outline formed by the short bill, steep forehead and pointed tail. Gregarious outside breeding season, feeding on grass in flocks, when males whisling whee-ooo call can be heard.

48cm (19")


Earlier this month following exceptionally low temperatures remarkable numbers of wigeon assembled on a single marsh in the Yare Valley near Claxton. Using the car as an observatory, we were able to watch these attractive wildfowl grazing on partly-frozen grass.
After several attempts I was convinced this moving carpet of birds was of the order of 9000 individuals. Suddenly and for no apparent reason all these wigeon took wing accompanied by a wild chorus and a mighty roar of wings. Within moments the pale winter sky was filled with fowl.

Flight after flight swept past, turning and twisting at high speed and maintaining close contact. Others climbed high, silhouetted against the sky, before returning to the marsh. As each flight swept down diagonally their wings produced a startling rushing sound. And at the moment of landing the drakes revealed dazzling white wing-patches.

Wigeon with cootsThe great flights of wigeon arriving in Norfolk are mainly long-distance travellers from a vast area of northern Russia and Siberia. The basin of the River Ob is especially favoured.

Some ringing recoveries are even more remote, including examples more than 2800 miles from this country. Wigeon also nest in Iceland, particularly those wintering in Scotland and northern England.

Wigeon with Coots

In the brief northern summer wigeon favour lakes with aquatic vegetation, tending to avoid waters overgrown with reeds and very deep lakes. Surprisingly it is mainly a bird of the coniferous forests, but is also found much farther to the north alongside tundra rivers and lakes.

Nests are hidden in vegetation, each lined with an ample layer of down to cover the eggs when the sitting bird is absent. There may be many nests with only a few yards between them.

Nine is the usual clutch size and the duck alone incubates for three and a half weeks. The ducklings are immediately led to water and fly after 45 days. The drakes soon abandon the brood and gather at moulting grounds at the end of June.

Autumn movements of wigeon are in a south-westerly direction along the Baltic and North Sea coasts. The vanguard reaches Norfolk by early August with peak totals between December and February.

Wigeon, like white-fronted geese, travel due east in March and April, then head north to the tundra in May. Before departing, communal courtship may be observed. Several drakes, each with neck stiffly erect and wing-flapping to advertise the white patches, crowd round a duck on the water. These encounters are often followed by pursuit flights, each group making rapid twists and turns high in the air. As some drakes drop out others take their places

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.