E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Mareca penelope Linnaeus
Eurasian Wigeon
Family: Anatidae

Species account author: Jamie Fenneman
Photo of species

© Tim Zurowski  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #8155)

E-Fauna BC Static Map
Distribution of Mareca penelope in British Columbia
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Species Information

Breeding male
This plumage is held from October through June, and most males observed in B.C. are in this plumage. The back and scapulars are grey, contrasting with the white rump and black uppertail coverts; the scapulars are elongated and pointed, and lay over the wings when the bird is swimming or standing. In flight, the upperwing is grey with a large white patch over the median and greater wing coverts, iridescent dark green secondaries (‘speculum’) bordered above and below with black, a white innermost secondary, and blackish tertials with narrow grey borders. The short, pointed tail is dark grey with black central feathers. The breast is pinkish or brownish-pink; the belly and area behind the flanks are white, the undertail coverts are black, and the sides and most of the flanks are grey; when swimming, the underparts look wholly grey except for a bold, white patch in front of the black undertail coverts. The underwings are wholly grey, including the axillaries and underwing coverts. The head is rufous or rufous-brown with a bold creamy-buff patch on the forehead and forecrown and sometimes some iridescent green around the eyes. The iris is dark, the bill is pale bluish with a black tip and cutting edge, and the legs and feet are greyish.

Non-breeding (eclipse) male
Males acquire this plumage in the early summer (June) and retain it until the fall (September-October). It is similar to the adult female, but retains the upperwing pattern of the male (large white patch on the greater and median wing coverts) and has an overall much more rufous-toned plumage, especially on the breast and flanks which are almost entirely rufous-brown.

Adult female
The back, scapulars, and rump are brownish or brownish-grey (often tinged with buff or pale rufous) with varying amounts of darker mottling that is most prominent on the scapulars (appearing as dark feather centres); the uppertail coverts are narrowly barred with brown, buff, and paler grey-brown. The upperwings are grayish-brown (greyer on the upperwing coverts) with pale grayish edges on the greater, median, and lesser wing coverts, whitish tips to the dark grey secondaries, a white innermost secondary, and long, pointed, blackish or dark grey tertials that are finely edged with white. The short, pointed tail is grayish-brown. The breast and flanks are rufous-brown (browner on the breast), sharply delineated from the white centre of the belly and the buffy, mottled area between the flanks and the undertail coverts; the undertail coverts are whitish with grey-brown mottling. The underwing is wholly grayish, including the underwing coverts and axillaries. The head is rufous-brown with fine dark speckling throughout (visible only at close range) that is slightly concentrated around the eye and often appears as a dark ‘smudge’ around the eye; the colour of the head does not contrast significantly with the colour of the breast. Bare part colouration is similar to that of the male, but the bill is often slightly greyer and less blue-toned.

Immature (first-winter) male
This plumage is acquired in the fall (August-October) of the first year and is retained throughout the first winter; it is lost in the spring of the second year. This plumage actually consists of two distinct plumages that are separated by a molt (one plumage from August to November, a second plumage from December to May), but because they are similar they are discussed together. Males in this plumage are similar to females, particularly during the fall, but shows some green iridescence on the secondaries and a paler grayish area over the greater wing coverts. Immature males acquire some plumage characteristics of adult males during their first winter, such as an adult-like head pattern and varying amounts of grey feathers on the upperparts and flanks, but tend to retain a female-like wing pattern and extensive brown mottling on the body throughout this period.

Total Length: 50-52 cm
Mass: 690 g

Source: Sibley (2000); Barry et al. (2006)



Identification of male Eurasian Wigeon is straightforward and should not present any identification difficulties, although male hybrids with American Wigeon may approach the appearance of pure male Eurasian Wigeon. Identification of females and immatures, however, is much more complicated given their similarity to female American Wigeon. Fortunately, Eurasian Wigeons virtually always occur with flocks of American Wigeons and, as such, it should always be possible to directly compare potential female Eurasian Wigeons to nearby female American Wigeons. The most readily apparent difference between the females of these two species is the noticeably more brown-tinged head of the female Eurasian Wigeon that does not contrast significantly with the colour of the breast. Female American Wigeon has a distinctly cold, greyish head that usually lacks any brown tones and contrasts wth the colour of the breast. Although this feature is variable, and some Eurasian Wigeons show relatively little brown wash on the head relative to others, this is still the feature that is most likely to draw attention to a potential female Eurasian Wigeon among a group of American Wigeons. Furthermore, the female American Wigeon tends to show a more pronounced dark area around the eyes (head appearing much more uniform in female Eurasian Wigeon, rarely showing a distinct darker area around the eyes) and has browner (less greyish) upperparts.

Additional features that help separate females and immatures of these two species are the lack of a narrow black border at the base of the bill in female Eurasian Wigeon (black border usually present, but obvious only at close range, in female American Wigeon) and the wholly grey axillaries and underwing coverts of female Eurasian Wigeon (axillaries and underwing coverts whitish in female American Wigeon, but this feature is visible only in flight or when an individual flaps its wings). The innermost secondary of female Eurasian Wigeons is white, rather than grey (as in American Wigeon), and often appears as a white horizontal bar separating the tertials from the iridescent speculum on the folded wing Although very subtle, slight differences in structure include the relatively smaller head of the Eurasian Wigeon, as well as its slightly longer wings that almost reach the tail tip when folded (wingtips fall short of the tail tip in American Wigeon).

Source: Cox and Barry (2005); Barry et al. (2006)

The most commonly-heard vocalization of the Eurasian Wigeon is a strong, descending, whistled hwEEEEEEr or WHEEEOOO (often preceded by low, brief note that can be heard at close range) that is given only by the male; this call is easily heard above the calls of nearby American Wigeons and is often the first indication of the presence of this species. Other calls include a low, growling, quack-like karr that is often given in flight; this call is slightly harsher than a similar call given by American Wigeon.

Source: Sibley (2000); Barry et al. (2006)

Breeding Ecology

This species is a non-breeding migrant and winter visitor to B.C.
Foraging Ecology

This species is almost always associated with medium to large flocks of American Wigeon and the foraging habits of the two species do not appear to differ. Its diet consists almost entirely of plant material during migration and winter, although it sometimes forages on fish eggs at the mouths of salmon spawning streams and in marine areas where Pacific Herring spawn. It typically forages on the stems, fruits, and leafy parts of aquatic plants, including marine and freshwater algae, and regularly moves to upland habitats to forage on the seeds and leafy parts of grasses, clovers, and various agricultural crops. Like other dabbling ducks, this species regularly engages in “tipping-up” when foraging in water, during which it submerges the head and front half of the body while raising the back end of the body, in an effort to reach plant material on the bottom of shallow water bodies (to a depth of ~20 cm). When in upland habitats, this species grazes on a variety of low grasses and forbs, often consuming seeds and small fruits where they are available. Along with American Wigeon, this species is better-adapted to grazing in upland habitats but is less well-adapted to straining food particulates from the water than other ducks in the genus Anas.

Source: Mowbray (1999)


This species is found in a wide variety of shallow freshwater, brackish, and marine habitats in B.C. and is virtually always in the company of the much more abundant American Wigeon. Typical freshwater habitats, which are occupied on both the coast and in the interior, include ponds, sloughs, marshes, lakeshores, large rivers, and flooded agricultural fields. It also commonly occurs in sheltered marine and brackish habitats along the coast such as intertidal areas, beaches, bays, harbours, lagoons, and estuaries. The Eurasian Wigeon regularly accompanies flocks of American Wigeons into short-grass upland habitats such as golf courses, agricultural fields, parks, and airports when foraging, particularly where these habitats occur adjacent to open water.

Source: Campbell et al. (1990a)


Global Range

Widespread breeder across the arctic and boreal regions of Eurasia, from northern Europe and Iceland east to the Bering Sea and south to southern Russia. Small numbers may breed in remote areas of Alaska (as suggested by rather frequent hybridization with American Wigeon), but this has not yet been proven. Winters widely in temperate and subtropical regions of Europe, Asia, and northern Africa, south to the Philippines, northern India, and Kenya. Small numbers winter along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America, and vagrants are seen throughout the continent.
BC Distribution

Uncommon in winter along the southern coast of B.C., including Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, and can be locally fairly common in some areas of the Lower Mainland such as Boundary Bay and Tsawwassen. It is uncommon on the Queen Charlotte Islands but is rare along the mainland coast north of Vancouver Island. Very rare in the Okanagan Valley but casual elsewhere across the southern interior in winter.

Migration and Vagrancy
Uncommon spring and fall migrant along the entire coast; rare to very uncommon spring and very rare fall migrant throughout the southern and central interior, and very rare spring migrant in northeastern B.C. east of the Rocky Mountains. Casual summer non-breeder along the coast.

Spring migration occurs early in B.C., extending from March to early May and peaking in mid-April; a few lingering spring migrants are occasionally recorded on the coast into late May or early June. Fall migrants are first noted in mid-September (rarely as early as late August), with peak southward movements occurring in October. Fall migration has largely finished by late November, with only wintering birds remaining into December.

Source: Campbell et al. (1990a)


Population and Conservation Status

This species is abundant and stable across Eurasia, and the number of individuals wintering on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America has increased dramatically over the past 60 years. In British Columbia, where this species was first documented in the 1950s, the number of wintering individuals has closely followed this trend. For example, on the Ladner Christmas Bird Count (where the largest numbers of this species are recorded) this species was first recorded as recently as 1971. Today, however, the average number of individuals detected on this count (based on the last 5 years of counting) exceeds 75 individuals, with some counts recording more than 100 birds. It is now possible to record more than 100 Eurasian Wigeons at a single location in certain areas of the Lower Mainland where enormous numbers of dabbling ducks regularly concentrate, such as Boundary Bay and Tsawwassen.

Because it does not breed in North America, this species is not given a conservation ranking by either the federal (COSEWIC [Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada]) or provincial (B.C. CDC [Conservation Data Centre]) government.


This species is monotypic, with no recognized subspecies. It is closely related to American Wigeon, and the two species are considered to form a superspecies. These two species, along with the closely-related Chiloe Wigeon (Anas sibilatrix) of South America, are sometimes placed in the genus Mareca. Although Eurasian Wigeon is not know to breed in North America, and American Wigeon is not known to breed in Asia, these two species are regularly hybridizing somewhere in northwestern North America or northeastern Asia. Such hybrids are regularly encountered in B.C., especially along the coast, and males can be easily identified by their combination of characteristics of the parent species (intermediate head pattern, body colouration). Female hybrids would be extremely difficult to identify with certainty given the similarities between females of the two parent species, but undoubtedly occur.

Source: Carboneras (1992); Mowbray (1999)

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
NativeSNRNNo StatusNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Range and Status Information Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2023-09-24 2:52:50 PM]
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