Bird Database

American Wigeon

(Mareca americana)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Wetland loss, Climate change

Conservation Actions

Manage waterfowl harvest, Wetland protection

American Wigeon

(Mareca americana)

Colloquially also know as the “Baldpate” for the male’s pale crown, the American Wigeon in primarily a non-breeding visitor to New Hampshire. The core of its breeding range is in northwestern North America from Alaska to Hudson Bay and the northern Great Plains, but starting in the 1980s it began to spread eastward through the Great Lakes into New York, New England, and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. It was perhaps just a matter of time before it was found breeding in New Hampshire, and this was confirmed in 2015 with the observation of a brood in the Lake Umbagog area after several years of summer sightings. Reasons for the eastward expansion are unclear but are believed to include ongoing losses of boreal and prairie wetlands in the west, combined with increased breeding habitat in the east (farm ponds, wildlife impoundments, etc.).​

Wigeon are most common in the state in the winter, when birds are reliably present on Great Bay. Numbers are variable: averaging over 40 in late fall but dropping to 20 or fewer by March, often a result of the bay having frozen in the interim. Spring migration is the best time to find the species away from Great Bay, when small numbers are encountered in the major river valleys and along the coastal plain, with the potential for one or two to be found anywhere. It is less reliable inland in the fall. Paying close attention to wigeon flocks in migration and winter may yield the reward of the much rarer Eurasian Wigeon, which has been recorded almost annually since 1994. The vast majority of records have come from Great Bay, with only a handful of spring records elsewhere in the state (most from the Connecticut Valley). The male of this European counterpart to the American Wigeon has a distinct chestnut head as shown in the second photo. ​

Unlike most of our other local ducks, wigeon obtain a significant portion of their food by grazing – both on land​ and in the water – and their shorter and thinner bill is well adapted to this diet. You will sometimes find them ​mixed with Canada Geese on golf courses or other short grassy fields. When foraging in water, it doesn’t​ tip up as frequently as other ducks, possibly because it is more selective in the plants it is eating.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

American Wigeon
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count