There seems to be a prevailing idea among people whose knowledge of ducks is limited that any sort smaller than a mallard and yet obviously too big to be a teal; must be a wigeon; but the real bird, which has only two near allies, both American, is quite unmistakable, owing to its small, inch-long, narrow bill, which is blue-grey with a black tip, and its unusually long and narrow wings; the belly is also conspicuously white in both sexes. In weight it is indeed intermediate between the full-sized ducks and the teal, weighing about a pound and a half.
The wigeon drake is very handsome, his chestnut head with yellow forehead contrasting well with his salmon breast and grey back; a large white patch on the wing is very conspicuous in flight. The female's brown plumage is less conspicuously mottled than that of other brown ducks of her sex, but the points above given will distinguish her easily. The male in undress is similar, but much redder brown as a rule; his white and green marking on the wing will distinguish him in this stage.
The sexes differ strikingly in voice as well as in plumage, for the drake utters what Hume well calls "a whistled cry," presumably imitated by the Hindustani Peasan and the Nepalese Cheyun; the female growls, but is far less noisy than her mate. When in flocks, the frequent " whewing " of the drakes is very noticeable, as also the way in which they apparently hump their backs, by raising the ends of the wings and depressing the tail, this being their display; in the ordinary way wigeon float rather high, and are recognizable by their small heads and bills and pointed tails. They fly lightly and fast, wheeling and turning with ease.
They are common winter visitors to India, Burma and Manipur, but do not penetrate further south than Mysore, and in many localities are rather uncertain in their appearance, not turning up at all in some years ; in Bengal, from what I observed in the Calcutta Market, they are regular enough in their appearance. Although to a certain extent omnivorous, as all ducks are more or less, they are specially vegetable feeders, and have a particular fondness for grass, so that they feed on land more than most ducks, and especially affect pieces of water with meadow like turfy margins. They frequent salt water to some extent, but are not so much sea-coast birds as at home, where they are among the chief quarry of the sea-coast gunner, feeding on the sea-grass so common on the British coasts. Their table qualities in India are rather uncertain, and they do not rank so high in this respect as at home.
It is noticeable that they are inclined to avoid a district in abnormally wet years, which at first seems a curious thing for ducks to do; but the effect of too much water is to cut off their food supply to a great extent, the shore grass being drowned, while the water-weeds are too deeply submerged for surface-feeders as they are ; though they can dive well if pressed, they do not seek for food in this way as a rule at any rate, though a captive bird in France has been known to do so during a flood.
The wigeon is a high northern bird in its breeding range, but is more of a western than an eastern species at all times, and now and then strays to North America, where, however, the ordinary wigeon is the distinct M. americana. Patari and Pharia are Hindustani names as well as that given, and in Sind the bird is called Parow.