BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

Eurasian wigeon

Anas penelope

What do they look like?

Eurasian wigeons are medium-sized ducks. They are 45 to 58 centimeters long, with a wing span of 75 to 86 cm, and weigh between 415 to 971 grams. These birds have small bills, narrow wings, a pointed tail, and a crested forehead. Adult males are more brightly colored than females and have a creamy white forehead with a chestnut brown head and neck and iridescent green speckling behind their eyes. Their upper breast is pinkish brown and their lower breast and flanks are white but appear grey. They have a black tipped tail with white feathers. Eurasian wigeons also have greenish and dust brown feathers, with bluish grey feet and bills that are tipped in black. When males molt they may look similar to females but have white wing feathers. Adult Females have a beige head and neck, which is speckled greenish and their sides and breast are rufous. Their rump and shoulders are dusky and their wings are grayish brown. They also have a blue grey bill tipped with black and bluish legs. Eurasian wigeons are sometimes confused with American wigeons. Adult male Eurasian wigeons can be told apart from American wigeons by their reddish head and grey sides. Females look very similar but Eurasian wigeons have speckled grey at the base of their wings, where as American wigeons have white. (Carboneras, 1992; Cramp and Simmons, 1977; Jacobsen and Ugelvik, 1992; Scott and Rose, 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    415 to 971 g
    14.63 to 34.22 oz
  • Range length
    45 to 58 cm
    17.72 to 22.83 in
  • Range wingspan
    75 to 86 cm
    29.53 to 33.86 in

Where do they live?

Eurasian wigeons (Anas penelope) have a very large range, they breed from Iceland across northern Europe and Asia. Although most populations migrate, some groups in England do not. Birds that do migrate can be found from the British Isles to northern Africa and India in the winter, and a few even migrate to the United States and Canada. (Carboneras, 1992; Cramp and Simmons, 1977; Johnsgard, 1978)

What kind of habitat do they need?

During the breeding season, Eurasian wigeons are found in different types of wetlands including shallow freshwater marshes, lagoons, and lakes with mud or silt bottoms. These birds can also be found in slow moving rivers and streams. Eurasian wigeons prefer meadow shorelines and areas with scattered trees. During the winter, Eurasian wigeons use tidal mud flats or salt marshes for gatherings. They can also be found in freshwater lagoons and flooded grasslands. (Carboneras, 1992; Cramp and Simmons, 1977; Johnsgard, 1978)

How do they reproduce?

Eurasian wigeons are seasonally monogamous, which means these birds form breeding pairs and usually only breed with their mate. These pairs form in late autumn and continue throughout the winter. (Cramp and Simmons, 1977)

Eurasian wigeons breed from April to May. They lay seven to eleven eggs in a small depression lined with plants and down feathers. These birds prefer to nest near shorelines covered by overhanging branches. Eurasian wigeons incubate their eggs for 22 to 25 days. Their young become independent in 40 to 45 days, when they reach the fledgling stage. They are ready to start mating in one to two years. (Carboneras, 1992; Cramp and Simmons, 1977; Johnsgard, 1978)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Eurasian Wigeons breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    These birds breed from April to May.
  • Range eggs per season
    7 to 11
  • Range time to hatching
    22 to 25 days
  • Average time to hatching
    24 days
  • Range fledging age
    40 to 45 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 2 years

Once pair bonds are formed, male Eurasian wigeons defend their mate until the breeding season. When egg incubation begins, males usually leave their mates and begin molting. Once egg incubation has started, up until the young fledge, all care is provided by the female. (Johnsgard, 1978)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents

How long do they live?

Based on a banding study in Britain, the oldest recorded wild Eurasian wigeon lived 35 years, 2 months. (Fransson, et al., 2010)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    35.167 (high) years

How do they behave?

Eurasian wigeons are a social, migratory species, except during the breeding season. These birds are dabbling ducks that feed both in water and on land. Typically they feed with outstretched heads and necks, they but will up-end if the conditions are right. Both males and females go through a flightless molt each year. Males gather in molting flocks while females incubate eggs and raise hatchlings. Females and fledglings join males later in the summer before migration begins. In North America, Eurasian wigeons can be found in mixed flocks of ducks, especially with American wigeons. (Cramp and Simmons, 1977; Johnsgard, 1978)

Home Range

There is very little information available regarding the home range size of Eurasian wigeons. Breeding birds can have varying degrees of territoriality. In one case, an island population of 35 to 40 breeding pairs was found 8 to 34 meters apart. In the winter, they have been recorded traveling about 2.8 km each day between roosting and foraging sites. (Batt, et al., 1992; Carboneras, 1992; Legagneux, et al., 2009)

How do they communicate with each other?

Eurasian wigeons are very vocal, males make a loud whistling call, “phee oo,” while females make a low pitched growl or hum, “errr”. The calls of Eurasian wigeons are similar to American wigeons, although male Eurasian wigeons have shorter, louder calls. (Cramp and Simmons, 1977; Johnsgard, 1978)

What do they eat?

Eurasian wigeons are dabbling ducks that may fly up to 16 km to feed. They feed in both water and on land. Wigeons can feed on water plants by filter feeding at the surface or up-end feeding. To filter feed, they strain water and plant material through tiny tooth like groves in their bill. Tip-up or up-end feeding is used to reach under water plants. Eurasian wigeons eat leaves, stems, roots, and seeds including fringed water lily, duckweed, water crowfoot and Canadian pondweed. Eurasian wigeons have been known to feed near swans and diving ducks on pondweed beds. Feeding near these birds allows them to steal food as it comes to the surface. (Carboneras, 1992; Cramp and Simmons, 1977; Johnsgard, 1978)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • algae

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Red foxes, common ravens, American minks and hooded crows are common nest predators of Eurasian wigeons. Likewise, adults are often preyed on by gyrfalcons and western marsh-harriers. To avoid predators on land, Eurasian wigeons quack loudly in groups and follow the predator's movements. When they sense a predator in flight, Eurasian wigeons hide in nearby plants and lay motionless with their necks stretched out until the threat has passed. Eurasian wigeons mainly escape predators by flight, but they may also dive. (Carboneras, 1992; Jacobsen and Ugelvik, 1992)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Eurasian wigeons eat wetland plants throughout their range. They are also prey for several predators. (Carboneras, 1992; Cramp and Simmons, 1977; Jacobsen and Ugelvik, 1992; Johnsgard, 1978)

Do they cause problems?

There are currently no known negative impacts of Eurasian wigeons on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Eurasian wigeons are sometimes hunted. Likewise, in some areas, their eggs are collected and the birds are raised as pets. (Butchart, et al., 2013; Carboneras, 1992; Gudmundsson, 1979)

Are they endangered?

Eurasian wigeons are not endangered; currently they are considered a species of least concern according to the IUCN Red List. (Butchart, et al., 2013; Carboneras, 1992)


Cody Tromberg (author), University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Adam DeBolt (editor), Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


Batt, B., A. Afton, M. Anderson, C. Ankney, D. Johnson, J. Kadlec, G. Krapu. 1992. Ecology and Management of Breeding Waterfowl. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Butchart, S., J. Ekstrom, L. Malpas. 2013. "Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope" (On-line). Accessed August 21, 2013 at

Carboneras, C. 1992. Anas penelope. Pp. 601 in J del Hoyo, A Elliot, J Sargatel, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 1 Ostrich to Ducks. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Cramp, S., K. Simmons. 1977. Handbook of the birds of Europe. The Middle East and North Africa. The birds of the Western Palearctic, Vol. I: ostriches to ducks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fransson, T., T. Kolehmainen, C. Kroon, L. Jansson, T. Wenniger. 2010. "European Longevity Records" (On-line). Accessed August 21, 2013 at

Gudmundsson, F. 1979. The Past Status and Exploitation of the Myvatn Waterfowl Populations. Nordic Society Oikos, 32: 232-249.

Jacobsen, O., M. Ugelvik. 1992. Anti-Predator Behavior of Breeding Eurasian Wigeon. Journal of Field Ornithology, 63: 324-330.

Johnsgard, P. 1978. Ducks, Geese, and Swans of the World. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.

Legagneux, P., C. Blaize, F. Latraube, J. Gautier, V. Bretagnolle. 2009. Variation in home-range size and movements of wintering dabbling ducks. Journal of Ornithology, 150: 183-193.

Scott, D., P. Rose. 1996. Atlas of Anatidae Populations in Africa and Western Eurasia. Wetlands International Publications, No. 41: 116-118.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Tromberg, C. 2014. "Anas penelope" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 28, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2024, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan