Bird of the Week

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    Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

    This week’s Bird of the week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the American wigeon.

    Several of our lakes and ponds have recently hosted large numbers of this colorful duck. As long as they can find open water, some remain here year-round and are one of our winter ducks. Most of the population breeds across western Canada, in Alaska and in the prairie pothole regions of our northern states.

    On their winter grounds, males compete for females with elaborate courtship displays which include tail wagging; bending the chest, neck and head upward; and raising wings over the body. By February, most mating pairs are established and they arrive at the breeding grounds together.

    American wigeon are dabbling ducks whose preferred foods are the leaves and roots of submerged plants. Being poor divers, they can’t reach this food source in deep water and yet are often seen in deeper water than other dabbling species. Here they follow and harass coots and diving ducks, ready to steal plants from these waterfowl when they surface to eat.

    These versatile ducks employ several other strategies to obtain food. In shallow water, they feed tipped upside down to reach the bottom and also feed on plant and insect matter from the surface. The short, goose-like bill of the wigeon confers the force needed to forage on land where they pluck vegetation from lawns and fields.

    In breeding plumage, a male American wigeon is a pale cinnamon color with white patches at the rump, a broad green stripe behind the eyes and a white cap on his rounded head. Females are colored a warm brown shade and have grayish heads with a dark smudge around the eyes.

    These ducks are very vocal at this time of year and their calls across the water, described as sounding like a squeaky dog toy, will alert you to their presence.

    For information on activities, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.