This week’s featured creature is a duck that will sometimes make stopovers in the ponds and lakes of city parks.

They are fall and winter visitors to Oklahoma and seeing American wigeons is not a common occurrence, which makes spotting them all the more special. They are often wary, so getting close to them is somewhat rare, too.

They can be seen in Oklahoma from about August to April and are more common during fall and spring migration.

You’ve probably heard someone say, “quacks like a duck.” Well, the female American wigeons will quack during courtship, but males have a different sound altogether. They open their bills and produce a wheezing whistle with a variety of calls.

Appearance

American wigeons are medium-sized ducks, smaller than mallards.

During the breeding season, the male American wigeon has a white cap and a light brown and gray head and neck with hundreds of tiny black splotches. This gives the head and neck a gray overall appearance, especially from a distance. It has wide, iridescent green stripes which run from its eyes to the back of its head

and down the nape of the neck. It has a very pale blue bill with a black tip, black undertail coverts and white flank feathers.

Females are light mottled brown overall. Their heads resemble those of the males but lack the green stripes.

During the winter, males lose the brilliant green stripes and the white cap.

Range

The American wigeon breeds in the northern Plains states, most of the Rocky Mountain states, and much of Canada. It winters along the Pacific Coast, the southern half of the United States and most of Mexico. It can be found all over Oklahoma during the winter.

Habitat

Wetlands, fields, ponds, lakes, marshes and rivers. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that these ducks prefer habitat that typically has plentiful vegetation both above and below the water surface. In urban and suburban areas, they will also frequent parks, pastures and golf courses to graze on grass.

Food

The American wigeon is a dabbling duck, a duck that feeds by turning headfirst into the water to graze on aquatic plants, vegetation, larvae and insects. It eats mostly stems and leaves of aquatic plants.

During the spring and summer, American wigeons eat more insects and aquatic invertebrates. They also often leave the water and graze on land.

Odds and ends

• The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that American wigeons eat a higher proportion of plant matter than any other dabbling ducks. This is due to their short bill, which is similar to that of a goose. The shortness of the bill helps exert more force at the tip so wigeons can easily pluck vegetation from fields and lawns.

• The Cornell Lab reports that the oldest known American wigeon was more than 21 years old.

(Editor’s Note: Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at rnw@usa.com.)

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