One of these Wigeons is not like the Others

We’ve just returned from a great three day trip in Victoria, British Columbia – it’s been nice to check out some of our favourite nature spots in the province’s capital and to experience a precursor of spring. It’s only about 3 hours drive from the Comox Valley but in Victoria Indian Plum and Red-flowering Currant is already well out in bloom and Anna’s Hummingbirds are everywhere. We did a house swap with some friends in Esquimalt and used it as a base for our family oriented nature explorations.

One thing that Jocie and I notice is that with two children under four our field trips tend to be a lot shorter and focused on areas that are accessible and easy to explore in an hour or so. Close proximity to a playground is a bonus. With that in mind, our first destination was Beacon Hill Park.

After about 30 minutes at the playground trying out all the equipment we convinced the kids that taking a look at the ducks would be a fun thing to do. There are a number of ponds in the park with large flocks of ducks that are very conditioned to people, and unfortunately, to regular feeding. We watched in dismay as several other families trekked off down the paths towards the ponds, bags of bread in hand. Duck watching at Beacon Hill Park can be a pleasant experience and in this situation you can get quite close looks, as long as you don’t mind the birds aggressively panhandling for bread.

American Wigeon (Anas americana) and Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)
A single Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) in a flock of American Wigeon (Anas americana).

Amongst the flock of American Wigeon on one of the ponds was a duck that looked a little different (note that in urban parks the “unusual” duck may be some sort of weird hybrid). In this case, our own little red-head Clara pointed out the rufuous headed duck amongst the other grey and green headed ducks. We all had a great opportunity to compare the less common Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) with the more common American Wigeon (Anas americana).

Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)
The Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) – note the rufous head and gray sides.

Eurasian Wigeons stand out in the larger flocks of American Wigeon. Here’s what you look for:

  • the Eurasian Wigeon has a rufuous coloured head that contrasts with the more drab gray and green stripe of the American Wigeon
  • look for the pale gray sides and back of the Eurasian Wigeon in comparison with the pinkish brown of the American Wigeon
American Wigeon (Anas americana)
The American Wigeon (Anas americana) – brownish pink on the sides and a gray and green head.

Here on the west coast, the American Wigeon is generally the more common of the two species. However, if you look hard enough and long enough you’ll usually find one or two Eurasian Wigeons amongst the larger number of American Wigeons.

While I’m not particularly fond of the “farm” feeling of urban park birding, Beacon Hill Park provides a great opportunity for beginning birders to learn how to identify some of the common, and in some cases, less common ducks. For children in particular, the chance to observe a duck closely without binoculars can be a great learning experience.

And leave your bag of bread at home!

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