108. THE WIGEON.
Mareca penelope, (LINNAEUS).
Outer web of the primaries blackish; inner web drab, with a blackish tip. Axillaries white, mottled with brown. Wing over nine inches in length. Speculum black and metallic green ; or entirely brownish ; followed in either case by a single quill, the outer web of which is white. Bill bluish, with a black tip ; narrower near the tip than at the base.
MALE : — Head chestnut; under tail-coverts black.
FEMALE: — Head marked with fulvous and brown ; under tail-coverts streaked with brown.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—Pea-san, Patari, Pharia, Chota-Lalsir, Hind. ; Parow, Sind.; Cheyun, Nepal; Ade, Adla, Ratnagiri.
THE Wigeon is a winter visitor to the Indian Empire, being found in more or less abundance all over the peninsula of India as far south as the Tinnevelly District of Madras, where Mr. W. N. Fleming records it as fairly common. Being found so far south as this, it will no doubt be hereafter observed in Ceylon. It occurs throughout the Himalayas, but there is no evidence that any ducks of this species remain to breed in Kashmir or elsewhere within our limits.
Notices of the occurrence of the Wigeon in the eastern portion of the Empire are few in number, but there can be little doubt that this widely spread Duck will be found to visit every portion of the country from Assam down to the southern limits of Pegu. Blyth recorded it years ago from Arrakan; Colonel McMaster wrote that the Wigeon was commoner in Burma than in India; Mr. Hume found it to be one of the commonest Ducks of Manipur; Captain T. S. Johnson informs me that he and his party procured four Wigeon, one Christmas week, near Mandalay; and lastly, Major G. Rippon writes to me that he has obtained this species at Fort Stedman in the Southern Shan States. The Wigeon has not yet been met with in Tenasserim, but it will undoubtedly be found in that extensive province when observers become more numerous.
The Wigeon has a wide range. It is found in summer throughout the northern portions of Europe and Asia, breeding generally north of the 6oth degree of latitude, and is even found on both coasts of the North American continent. In winter this species ranges south, and is found over a considerable portion of Northern Africa, the Black Sea, Persia, India, Burma, China, and even Borneo.
The Wigeon appears to reach India about the end of October, and it leaves the country in March or April according to locality. From all accounts it is very irregular in its migrations, visiting some places in large numbers one year, and avoiding the same locality the next year.
The Wigeon is found on the larger tanks and lakes in the interior as well as on the sea-coast. It is usually seen in flocks of considerable size, but pairs or small parties are not unfrequently met with. In addition to feeding on vegetable matter and the small forms of animal life found in water, the Wigeon feeds a good deal on land, cropping grass like a Goose. It walks with considerable ease, flies swiftly, and dives well, when compelled to do so. The flesh of the Wigeon varies in quality very much, according to locality : those birds shot on inland waters, and especially those which have fed on grass, being for the most part excellent for the table, whereas those shot on the sea-coast are coarse and fishy.
Mr. Seebohm thus describes the general habits of Wigeon :—" The Wigeon has probably derived its name from its remarkable note, but, as is usual in cases of this kind, it requires a considerable stretch of imagination to recognise the similarity. The cry of this Duck is a loud prolonged whistle or scream, immediately followed by a short note. I can best represent it by the syllables mee-yu, the first very loud and prolonged, the last low and short. It sounds very wild and weird, as it startles the ear on the margin of a mountain tarn or moorland lake, a solitary cry, very high in key, not unmusical in tone, but loud and piercing—one of the most familiar sounds on the banks of the Petchora and the Yenesay, where the Wigeon is very abundant, especially on the lakes and swamps of the borderland, where the forest merges into the tundra not far north of the Arctic circle. . . . The Wigeon is a bird of rapid and almost noiseless flight, and is very shy, especially when collected in large flocks, which are almost impossible to approach. According to Naumann the duck sits from twenty-four to twenty-five days ; for about half this period she is attended by the drake, who roosts during the day not far from the nest, and faithfully accompanies his mate every evening to the feeding-grounds ; but long before the eggs are hatched, either his ardour has cooled or important business calls him elsewhere, and he leaves her to bring up her brood alone, whilst he retires into the marshes to undergo his first moult. As soon as the young are able to fly, the female leaves them to fight their own way in the world, whilst she undergoes her one annual and complete moult in the most retired locality she can find. As soon as the frosts begin the Wigeon leaves its breeding-grounds for the south."
Mr. Abel Chapman, in his " Bird-Life of the Borders," after commenting on the fact that Wigeon for some weeks after arriving south in autumn remain inside harbour throughout the day, instead of flying out to sea at dawn as is their custom later on, continues :—" This phase in the character of Wigeon is rather remarkable, and appears at first sight to point to the conclusion that they are, by nature, diurnal in their habits, and that they are only driven to acquire night-feeding proclivities by the influence of man, and by considerations of safety. But, on further examination, this conclusion appears hardly to be borne out, though Wigeon are undoubtedly far more disposed to feed by day than are the Mallard. It must be remembered that, in their northern breeding grounds (whence they have newly returned) there is practically, during their sojourn there, no night at all. Even in Central Norway there is no darkness, and in their grand resorts in Lapland and corresponding latitudes, midnight is indistinguishable from noon. Consequently they then acquire promiscuous habits; and, like other Arctic voyagers, they eat when hungry and sleep when tired, without much regard to solar chronology. On first arrival here, the Wigeon, and especially the young birds, which now for the first time experience the regular alternations of light and darkness, continue the somewhat anomalous habits acquired in northern lands, where the summer sun never sets, or at least his light never dies out. In a few weeks, however, they adapt themselves to the altered conditions, and become absolutely nocturnal in their habits."
Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, in "The Fowler in Ireland," observes :—" The actions of Wigeon when unsuspicious and playful are very interesting. They may be observed dressing their feathers, washing, tossing the water about, and nodding and bowing vis-a-vis like cocks fighting. The old yellow-headed males may be seen chasing the others, or ploughing and splashing through the water after one another, and causing great commotion in the ranks. Some will stand up on end, the treading feet assisting them to maintain an upright attitude, without which the wings could not be fanned and dried clear of the water. ... A large company of Wigeon feeding in earnest are oftentimes the most silent; though when in shot, or nearly so, you may discern the low croaking purr of satisfaction emitted by the hen, the soft quiet whistle of the cock, and the rippling bills as they shovel greedily along the ooze. Duck and Wigeon, when they get the chance, are as fond of feeding by day as by night. It is an error to suppose that it is invariably after dark the latter seek their food ; they prefer night, because they are then safer from disturbance in most places ; but when left alone in spots where food abounds, they will feed with avidity during the day."
Mr. Monement, as quoted by Mr. Stevenson in his " Birds of Norfolk," informs us that in foggy weather and rain Wigeon are restless and silent at night, but when the weather is bright and frosty they are usually noisy and more or less unsuspecting. As with Wild Duck, the female of the Wigeon is a more expert diver when wounded than the male, although the superiority is not so marked. He found the Wigeon's sense of smell to be less acute than that of the Wild Duck or Teal, but it is nevertheless unsafe for the gunner to go directly to windward of them, unless at a considerable distance.
The Wigeon breeds about June, constructing its nest in the long grass and rushes growing on the margin of a lake or pond. The nest is deep, made of vegetable matter, and well lined with down. This latter is sooty brown in colour with white centres. The eggs vary in number from seven to twelve. They are of a very pale buff or cream-colour. They are seldom perfectly elliptical, one end being rather markedly more pointed than the other. They measure from 1.9 to 2.3 in length and from 1.3 to 1.6 in breadth, from which measurements it will be seen that they are very variable in size and shape.
The plumage of the Wigeon varies considerably according to age and season. The following descriptions are taken from good representative specimens. The fully adult male has the forehead and crown creamy buff. The remainder of the head and the upper neck are chestnut, more or less spotted, rather minutely, with black. The chin and throat are dusky. The mantle, the back, and the scapulars are grey, vermiculated with black. The rump and the upper tail-coverts are more delicately vermiculated, and the middle of the rump is almost plain grey. The longer upper tail-coverts are black with whitish inner margins. The middle pair of tail-feathers is plain brown; the others ashy, margined with whitish. The upper part of the breast and the sides of the breast are a delicate vinous, tinged with grey, the portion immediately next the chestnut neck vermiculated with black, like the mantle. The lower part of the breast and the whole abdomen are pure white; the sides of the body vermiculated with black and grey; the sides of the rump white; the under tail-coverts black. The under wing-coverts are ashy grey; the axillaries white, more or less mottled with brown. The lesser upper wing-coverts, round the edge of the wing, are grey, very finely vermiculated; the remaining upper coverts pure white, the lower series tipped with black. The outer web and the tip of the inner web of the primaries are brown ; the remaining portion of the inner web is a pale drab. The outer secondaries are brown on the inner web. Their outer web is deep black, with the basal portion bright metallic green, the amount of green increasing on each feather progressively. The first inner secondary, the one next the speculum, has the outer web almost entirely white with a black margin. The remaining secondaries are black margined with white on the outer web, brown on the inner web.
Younger males resemble the old male, but have the whole head chestnut, spotted with black. Others have the buff forehead and crown of the old male, but the brown upper wing-coverts of the female. The head and the upper wing-coverts appear liable to great variation, and are the very last portions of the plumage to be permanently changed. Males probably take three years before they acquire their perfect plumage.
According to Seebohm, adult males in moulting-plumage (or, as I should term it, in post-nuptial plumage) " are more brilliantly coloured than usual, the prin¬cipal difference being that the black and white vermiculated upper parts are changed to dark brown barred with chestnut and buffish white, which is also the colour of the upper breast, whilst the flanks are nearly uniform chestnut."
According to Mr. De Winton, as quoted by Dr. Sharpe, "After the breeding season both males and females assume a very distinct summer dress of reddish brown, though the female is not quite so rufous. In the male, all traces of the beautiful breeding-dress disappear."
Mr. Howard Saunders, in his revision of Yarrell's " British Birds," quoting Mr. Cecil Smith, says : " The adult male birds undergo considerable change in their appearance towards the end of June, or the beginning of July ; at which time the head, neck, breast and flanks become a rich rusty-red, but always so much brighter than the browner tints of the female, that the sexes may easily be distinguished."
Dr. Blanford writes :—" After the breeding season the male moults into a dress much resembling the female, except that the head and neck are dull chestnut spotted with black, without the buff patch; upper breast and flanks dull ferruginous."
As I have not been able to examine any specimen of a Wigeon which could be satisfactorily determined as being a male in post-nuptial plumage, I am unable to throw any further light on the matter from my own investigations.
The adult female, in newly-moulted plumage, has the forehead and crown brown barred with fulvous. The sides of the head, the chin, throat, and the whole neck are fulvous, spotted and streaked with brown. The whole upper plumage and the scapulars are brown, each feather margined with fulvous or pale rufous. The tail-feathers are brown, narrowly margined with whitish. The whole breast and the sides of the body are rather bright fulvous, all the feathers with paler edges. The lower plumage is white, the under tail-coverts with large brown central streaks. The axillaries are white, very thickly mottled with brown. The under wing-coverts are mottled ashy brown. The upper wing-coverts are brown, margined with white, the lowermost row whitish tipped with black. The primaries resemble those of the male. The outer secondaries are ashy brown, gradually turning to black, the whole of them tipped with white, and the innermost two or three black secondaries with a small patch of metallic green near the base. The secondary following the black ones is nearly entirely white on the outer web. The remaining secondaries are brown, edged with fulvous.
The plumage of the females is subject to variation caused, by the wearing away of the margins of the feathers and a general fading of the plumage. In females which are not quite adult there is no trace whatever of metallic green on the wing, and the outer secondaries are never black. At all' ages, however, there will always be found the single inner secondary with the white outer web.
The sexes do not differ much in size, but the male is generally a heavier bird than the female. Length about 19 ; wing about 10 ; tail 4 to 4 1/2. The bill is bluish with a black tip; the irides are brown ; the legs and feet greyish brown. Weight up to about 1 3/4 lb.