It’s his Favorite Duck

By Dr. Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

 

• Louisiana Ecrivisse
• Boyce LA

As I've mentioned in past The Piney Woods Journal, I've duck hunted all my life. I've shot just about every species of duck found in Louisiana with a couple of exceptions when it comes to rare sea ducks, although I've seen even those as a birder. No point killing anything unless it's harming you and/or you eat it.

Amongst the duck hunting community, we distinguish between the puddle ducks that tip up to feed in shallow water with their tails vertical, in the air, and the diving ducks that dive a few feet to many feet to locate food. Puddle ducks eat far more vegetation than most of the diving ducks and tend to be far better eating, prepared simply by roasting.

That brings us to the American Wigeon. It is, as far as I am concerned, the best tasting roasted duck I've had the privilege of eating. Small relative to species like Gadwall and Mallard but clearly larger than the teal, it pretty much makes a meal for a hungry hunter. No left overs.

So, what are the origins of the name "wigeon"? As I understand the matter,"wigeon" originates from the French word "vigeon"that is associated with medieval Latin "vipio". This refers to a "kind of crane" and is imitative of the bird's cry. In fact, the drake American Wigeon call is a whistle. The hen makes a growling quack.

The American Wigeon was once called "baldpate"which is associated with the whitish crown of the drake. Other names including "zin zin","whistling duck", and "whistling dick" are related to the drakes whistling call.

The drake American Wigeon is a very handsome bird in breeding plumage. The forehead and forecrown are cream or white-colored and there is a broad dark-green patch extending from behind the eye to the nape. The bill is bluish-gray with a black tip. Cheeks and chin are grayish. The breast, sides, and back are pinkish-brown. The rear flanks show a white patch and the under tail area is black.

In non-breeding plumage, the drake has variable amount of green and white and the body is somewhat drab. However, in all plumages there are white patches on the upper fore wing trailed by dark green rear wing patches. [Such a patch is called the "speculum".]

The hen's head is grayish overall with finely blended white and dusky streaks. The breast and flanks are a pale reddish-brown. The back (mantle) is grayish-brown with some buff barring. Like the drake, the bill is small and grayish with a black tip.

American Wigeon breed in northwestern North America but are found throughout the continent in migration and in the winter. Size, intermediate between teal and Mallard, and the small bill help to distinguish this species from the other dabbling ducks.

The American Wigeon is a grazer. The short bill enables it to pluck grasses on land. But, like its other dabbler cousins, it feeds on aquatic vegetation by "tipping up" in shallow water. A somewhat unique method of feeding in deep water involves mingling with diving ducks and grabbing vegetation from their bills when they pop up to the surface. These birds won't pass up wasted grain and soybeans in agricultural fields.

Guess what? There IS a Eurasian Wigeon. There isn't much difference in appearance between hens of both species but the drake Eurasian Wigeon has a dark rufous head and a buffy forehead. Eurasian Wigeons are rare visitors to our region and a big treat for birders!

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