A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


American Wigeon uses freshwater ponds and sheltered saltwater areas. Fairly common in the county during the winter months. The earliest birds may start arriving as early as late August, although most begin moving in in the latter part of September. Birds that have overwintered start leaving the following March, and most will be gone by early May. Numbers vary from year to year. Usually seen foraging in small flocks on water, but may also forage in fields. Likes tender grassy areas near water. May visit parks and golf courses. Uses freshwater lakes, but also found in estuaries, and bays. Known to steal food from other ducks. 

Pale forehead of the male bird is conspicuous: Hunters know the American Wigeon as the "Baldpate." Also conspicuous is the thick band of metallic green that follows the line of the head, extending from behind the eye to the back of the base of the neck. Head is otherwise a mottled greyish brown. The brown mottling extends part of the way down the neck. The pale, blue-grey bill is proportionately small and often held pointing downward. Black tip on bill of male smaller and not always present in female. The rest of the bird is mostly a pinkish-brown, but a lateral stripe of white is often visible. Look also for the large patch of white near the rump. The tail-end of the bird is black. Tips of flight feathers also show black but with pale fringes. In flight, belly white and conspicuously white at the "armpit." Prominent white wing patches on adult males tend toward grey on females

Female birds are mostly shades of brown (see photo below), but darker on the back, a warm brown on the flanks and a mottled brownish grey on the head and neck that may be darkest around the dark eye. The pale bluish-grey bill is distinctive. Like the male, may show a whitish lateral stripe on the flank.

The challenges of female duck identification (includes a quiz)

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 30

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 43

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 188

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 34

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 30

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 35-36

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 64

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 79

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 38

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 28

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 141-159 (general notes on duck ID); pp. 72, 147, 151, 154

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, p. 7-9

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 6

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 68, 84

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 24, 42

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 46, 66

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 77

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 21

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 47

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--American Wigeon



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


American Wigeon, November 7, 2009

Female American Wigeon, East Rail Pond, Bodega Bay, November 18, 2011

American Wigeon

Anas americana

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated June 5, 2013

EBird reported  occurrence in Sonoma County