Anas penelope



A medium-sized duck, smaller than the Mallard, with a round head and small bill. The male and female are different, but both have a grey bill with a black tip, and a white belly. The male has a chestnut head and neck, a distinctive yellow forehead, a pink-brown breast and a grey body. He has a white stripe on the wing and a black, pointed tail. When flying, white wing patches are visible. The female is a similar shape and size, but she is mottled reddish or grey-brown; she is darkest on the head and back and her flanks are pale pinkish. Both the male and female have a dull green speculum and white belly in flight, and the tail is more pointed than in other ducks. Juveniles have similar features to females, and immatures resemble adult males without the white wing patches.


In the UK, these birds nest in central and northern Scotland and also in northern England. Favoured habitats include near shallow, freshwater lakes, pools and rivers where there is cover nearby for nesting.


Migrating birds often move their necks up and down in distinctive way. They're solitary birds when nesting, but dwell in flocks for most of the year.


The Wigeon searches for food in the water or grazes on land. It also follows other species such as Coots and swans and picks up food they've left to waste. Wigeons are mostly vegetarian, eating stems, leaves and roots of plants such as grasses, buttercups, algae, pondweeds and eelgrass.


Nesting begins in April or May. The female lays 8-9 eggs; she incubates them for about 24 days and during this process, the male usually departs. Young are born with the ability to feed themselves, but the female still broods them while they're small. Their independence coincides with their ability to fly, about 40 days after hatching.


There are over 300 breeding pairs in Britain. During winter there are over 450 000 individual birds in the region and 82 000 in Ireland - largest numbers are seen in October.

Observation Tips

Often detected aurally before visually. Solitary females are rare and can be hard to discern, but bulkiness, reddish colouration and a rounded head are things to look out for.


Male's call can be heard from a distance, a two-syllable whistle: 'wee-ooo'. Female vocals are harsh, almost a growl.