Monday 20 November 2017

Wigeon comes here for our mild winter weather

By Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

Pair of Wigeon; female in front, male behind
Pair of Wigeon; female in front, male behind

The Wigeon, also spelled 'widgeon', is a handsome duck. In summer, it is a rare breeder in Ireland but in winter it is one of our most numerous seasonal migrant visitors with over just one hundred thousand individuals arriving here each winter from Iceland, Scandinavia and Siberia.

As ice and snow grip the far north in their chilly embrace, these birds come here to enjoy our relatively mild winter weather arriving as early as late August and staying as late as March. They are found nationwide in wetlands, marshes, lagoons, estuaries, coastal bays, inland lakes, rivers and turloughs.

The northwest European Wigeon population that comprises the flyway that we are part of is estimated at 1.25 million birds. Their abundance makes them one of the most popular quarry species of wildfowlers throughout their range.

The Wigeon is a medium-sized duck with a well-rounded head, a steep forehead, a relatively small, bluish-grey bill, and a pointed tail. The two sexes are quite different in colour. The adult male has a chestnut-brown head and neck with a creamy-yellow crown and forehead. His breast is pale pink, his back and sides are silver-grey, his underside is white and his rear end is black. In contrast, the female is mostly a greyish, rusty-brown in colour.

While most ducks quack, male Wigeon whistle. The loud 'wee-oo' whistle carries over long distances. As darkness falls on a wetland on a still, crisp winter evening no sound better evokes the quintessential beauty of watery wild places than the clear, far-carrying whistling of male Wigeon.

Wigeon are entirely vegetarian. They feed on plants either dabbling, that is, surface-feeding by upending in shallow water to reach aquatic plants growing underwater, or grazing on grasses, seeds, stems and roots in waterside pastures, or browsing on green seaweeds and Eelgrass on the coast.

Wigeon are highly gregarious. It is very unusual to see one on its own; it is more usual to see close-knit groups or flocks either on the water, feeding or roosting on land or flying rapidly overhead in tight formations showing their white bellies.

The name 'wigeon' has appeared in print for over five hundred years but nobody appears to know where the term came from or what exactly the word means. While the origin of its name is obscured by the mists of time, and while the species has been newsworthy of late regarding bird 'flu, the handsome duck continues to thrive.

Wexford People

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