Mareca penelope

The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.


Wigeon, also known as the Eurasian or European wigeon

Female left, and male right, pair of breeding Wigeon

Female left, and male right, pair of breeding Wigeon

Wigeons are also known as Widgeons

Wigeons are also known as Widgeons

A large flock of migrating Wigeon

A large flock of migrating Wigeon

Appearance & Identification

What do Wigeons look like?

Eurasian wigeons are medium-sized ducks with rounded heads. Males and females are unalike: males have a yellowish forehead stripe, a chestnut head and neck, a pink breast and a grey body, with paler underparts. Females are rusty brown all over, with a white belly, and there is little contrast between the colouring of their head and upper body markings.

A white stripe is visible on their wings, particularly in flight. Male wigeons have white-grey tails, which are edged with black.

Female wigeons are similar in colouring to female mallards, and lack the bold plumage of their male mates, although both sexes do have the same black-tipped blue-grey bill.

Juvenile wigeons are similar in appearance to adult females. By their first winter, young males develop the distinctive grey body and chestnut head of adult males, but it takes a further year for the white wing markings to be fully defined.

<p><strong>Male Wigeon</strong></p>

Male Wigeon

<p><strong>Female Wigeon</strong></p>

Female Wigeon

How big are Wigeons?

Eurasian wigeons rank between the smaller tufted duck and larger mallard in terms of size. Female wigeons are slightly smaller than males and usually weigh less, although there is some overlap between the measurement ranges for the sexes.

  • Length: 45 cm to 51 cm (17.7 in to 20.1 in)
  • Wingspan: 75 cm to 86 cm (29.5 in to 33.9 in)
  • Weight: 500 g to 900 g (17.6 in to 31.7 in)
Eurasian Wigeons are a medium-sized duck

Eurasian Wigeons are a medium-sized duck

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Wigeon make?

Unlike many ducks, male Eurasian wigeons have a distinctive, almost musical call, which sounds like a two-pitch whistle, “wheee-ooooo” and can be heard in flight as well as when foraging on water or land.

Female Eurasian wigeons are not blessed with the same tuneful whistle of males. Instead, their call sounds like a gruff growl.


What do Wigeons eat?

Eurasian wigeons are primarily herbivores, and their diets consist mainly of plant matter, foraged both from grazing on land or found while dabbling head-down in shallow ponds and lakes.

Grasses, sedge, leaves, stems and roots of aquatic vegetation are among the main elements of a wigeon’s diet all year round. During the breeding season, some small insects, particularly midges, are eaten.

In winter, grazing Eurasian wigeons eat seeds, rice, potatoes and even droppings of seagulls. Feeding occurs during both the day and night in winter months, according to the timing of the tides.

What do Wigeon duckings eat?

Midges and other tiny insects and invertebrate larvae form much of the initial diet of newly hatched wigeon ducklings, although it is not long before their diet matches that of adult birds, switching to plant matter, grasses and seeds.

Wigeon foraging for food in the water

Wigeon foraging for food in the water

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Wigeon?

During the breeding season, habitats preferred by wigeons are shallow, freshwater marshes, lakes, and lagoons. Landscapes that offer tree shelter are favoured, with water surrounded by scattered trees or open woodland frequently chosen for nesting.

In winter, Eurasian wigeons move south in search of coastal marshes, estuaries, bays and other sheltered marine localities.

What is the range of a Wigeon?

The range of Eurasian wigeons extends from Iceland and northern Britain eastwards across northern Europe and throughout northern Asia to the coast of the Pacific.

During winter, the species moves southwards into central and southern Europe, South Asia and as far south as northern and central Africa.

Some Eurasian wigeons may migrate as far as the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, with some year-round vagrant residents become established at isolated spots in the continent.

Where do Wigeons live?

During winter, up to around 400,000 Eurasian wigeons are found across the British Isles. Other regions with large non-breeding populations include China, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and South Asia.

Countries with large breeding populations of Eurasian wigeons are led by Sweden, Finland, and European Russia.

Male and female Wigeon - female left, male right

Male and female Wigeon - female left, male right

How rare are Wigeons?

Wigeons are relatively common winter visitors to the UK, but considerably less widespread in the United States, which is a fair way outside of their usual range.

Across Britain, an influx of wintering wigeons arrive from Scandinavia each autumn, inflating the year-round population of around 400 pairs to an enormous 400,000 plus birds.

Where can you see Wigeons in the UK?

The Somerset Levels are known as a favourite spot for wintering wigeons, with tens of thousands being recorded in some years.

During spring and summer, central and northern Scotland and parts of northern England may offer the best chances of glimpsing breeding wigeons and their ducklings, as up to 400 pairs breed in these locations each year.

Where can you see Wigeons in the US?

Eurasian wigeons are a rare vagrant species in the US, and live alongside and occasionally hybridize with American wigeons. Small numbers of Eurasian wigeons spend winters on the mid-Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Wigeons are relatively common winter visitors to the UK

Wigeons are relatively common winter visitors to the UK

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Wigeons live?

The maximum recorded lifespan of a Eurasian wigeon is 34 years and 7 days, with a much shorter average life expectancy of 3 years being more typical. Breeding occurs for the first time at one year.

What are the predators of Wigeons?

Minks and foxes prey on wigeons, and birds, including ravens, hooded crows, goshawks, and marsh harriers, may opportunistically raid their nests and eat their young.

Are Wigeons protected?

The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, provides wigeons with protection against being captured, killed or injured, and also makes it illegal to damage or destroy their nests or eggs.

Are Wigeons endangered?

European wigeons are classified as a species of least concern across their entire range, but in the UK have been rated with Amber status on the British Birds of Conservation Concern list. This is due to the importance of the overwintering populations supported by British wetlands.

Close up of a female Eurasian Wigeon foraging for food

Close up of a female Eurasian Wigeon foraging for food

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Wigeons nest?

Wigeons nest on land within short distances of water. Nests are created in a depression on the ground, which is concealed in grasses, reeds or other waterside vegetation.

Grass, twigs and down are used to line the nest, which is formed at a site chosen by the female and constructed with no assistance from the male.

What do Wigeon eggs look like?

Eurasian wigeons’ eggs are a creamy buff colour and measure up to 60 mm by 42 mm (2.4 in by 1.7 in).

A typical clutch contains between 8 and 9 eggs, and one brood per season is usual, although second broods may be attempted if the initial brood fails.

Females alone incubate the eggs for 24 to 25 days, leaving them unattended for brief periods to forage for food on the nearby water.

Do Wigeons mate for life?

Eurasian wigeons are a monogamous species, and once paired, they remain together for life, maintaining the pair bond from one season to the next, with brief interruptions after young have been raised.

Where do Wigeon breed in the UK?

Breeding in the UK is not especially common for Eurasian wigeons, although up to around 400 pairs do raise young in Britain each year. Recorded locations for breeding include central and southern Scotland and northern England.

<p><strong>Wigeon nest, with eight unhatched eggs inside</strong></p>

Wigeon nest, with eight unhatched eggs inside

<p><strong>Young Wigeon duckling</strong></p>

Young Wigeon duckling


Are Wigeons aggressive?

Some aggression may be shown by wigeons early in the breeding season, particularly when other pairs are nearby, and lone female ducks will be chased off.

Once the eggs are laid and young hatch, this territorial behavior subsides, and wigeons become more social, gathering and foraging in larger flocks.

Where do Wigeons sleep at night?

Large portions of a Eurasian wigeon’s daily time budget are spent resting, with roosting spots on tidal flats as well as on open water. Although they are typically diurnal birds, and actively feed during daylight hours, some nocturnal feeding is observed, depending on tidal patterns.

Two squabbling male Wigeons

Two squabbling male Wigeons


Do Wigeons migrate?

Eurasian wigeons are mostly migratory, with considerable movement within the species’ breeding and non-breeding grounds each year.

Small numbers of wigeons both live and breed in specific parts of the UK each year, but their numbers are dramatically increased with the arrival of overwintering birds each autumn.

Where do Wigeon migrate to from UK?

Wigeons seen in the UK during winter months tend to only be temporary residents until the weather and foraging conditions become more tolerable on their breeding grounds further north.

Wigeons from Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland begin to be spotted on lakes and reservoirs around the UK from September onwards, with migrating birds continuing to arrive into December.

Winter-visiting wigeons begin departing for their breeding grounds from late February and into March, when they head back to breeding grounds in Iceland, Fennoscandinavia and into Russia.

European Wigeon in flight

European Wigeon in flight


Where did the name Wigeon come from?

The name ‘wigeon’ is thought to be derived from the Middle French or Old French words vigeon, vingeon and vignier, meaning “to whine or shout”, which echoes the sharp, piercing whistle made by males of the species.

What is a male Wigeon called?

Male wigeons are known as drakes. Flocks of wigeons are called ‘bunches’.

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Mareca penelope

Other names:

Eurasian wigeon, European wigeon, Widgeon


Ducks, geese and swans

Conservation status:




45cm to 51cm


75cm to 86cm


500g to 900g

Learn more about the Wigeon

Other birds in the Ducks, geese and swans family

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