WIGEON, or Wigeon (Fr. Vigeon, from the Lat. Vipio),[1] also called locally “Whewer” and “Whew” (names imitative of the whistling call-note of the male), the Anas penelope of Linnaeus and Mareca penelope of modern ornithologists, one of the most abundant species of ducks throughout the greater part of Europe and northern Asia, reaching northern Africa and India in winter. A good many pairs breed in the north of Scotland; but the nurseries of the vast numbers which resort in autumn to the waters of temperate Europe are in Lapland or farther to the eastward. Comparatively few breed in Iceland.

Intermediate in size between the teal and the mallard, and less showy in plumage than either, the drake wigeon is a beautiful bird, with the greater part of his bill blue, his forehead cream-colour, his head and neck chestnut,[2] replaced by greyish-pink below and above by lavender-grey, which last, produced by the transverse undulations of fine black and white lines, extends over the back and upper surface of the wings, except some of the coverts, which are conspicuously white, and shows itself again on the flanks. The wings are further ornamented by a glossy green speculum between two black bars; the tail is pointed and dark; the rest of the lower parts is white. The female has the inconspicuous coloration characteristic of her sex among most of the duck tribe. In habits the wigeon differs not a little from most of the Anatinae. It greatly affects tidal waters during the season of its southern stay, and becomes the object of slaughter to hundreds of gunners on the coasts of Britain and Holland, but, when it resorts to inland localities, as it also does to some extent, it passes much of its time in grazing, especially by day, on the pastures which surround the lakes or moors that it selects.

The wigeon occurs occasionally on the eastern coast of North America, and not uncommonly, it would seem, on the Pribyloff Islands in the Pacific. But the New World has two allied species of its own. One of them, M. americana (a freshly killed example of which was once found in a London market), inhabiting the northern part of that continent, and in winter reaching Central America and the West Indian islands as far as Trinidad, wholly resembles its Old World congener in habits and much in appearance. But in it the chestnut of the head is replaced by a close speckling of black and buff, the white wing-coverts are wanting, and nearly all of the plumage is subdued in tone. The other species, M. sibilatrix, inhabits the southern portion of South America and its islands, from Chile on the west to the Falklands on the east, and is easily recognized by its nearly white head, nape glossy with purple and green, and other differences; while the plumage hardly differs sexually at all. (A. N.) 

  1. So Pigeon (q.v.) from Pipio. Other French names, more or less local, are according to Rolland, Vignon, Vingeon, Wagne, Woinge, Wignet, Wuiot, Vioux and Digeon. In some parts of England the small teasing flies, generally called midges, are known as “wigeons.”
  2. Hence come the additional local names “bald-pate” and “red-head.”