Wednesday 17 December 2014

Female American Wigeons on the Gannel Estuary, Cornwall

Yesterday, I had some bird survey work to do in Cornwall and finished a little earlier than I thought, so decided to head to the Gannel Estuary near Newquay where two female American Wigeons have been present since at least late November. I was pretty keen to see these birds as I have limited experience of female American Wigeons and I always wondered just how many female birds get overlooked in the UK, so to have two on one estuary is pretty impressive. On arrival, I picked up one bird straight away and with a careful scan, the second less obvious bird with a darker head was also found without too much trouble. The beauty of this site, is the Eurasian Wigeon flock seems incredibly small (only around 70 birds) therefore making things much easier!

It was great to study these birds at quite close quarters and get a feel for their plumage. Interestingly, it was the rich chestnut (almost orange) flank colour that seemed to be the easiest way of picking the birds out amongst the flock. The cold smoky grey, dark flecked head was also prominent on one bird. Neither bird seemed to show black bill base line that "if" present is meant to be diagnostic for American, but absence of this feature is also not uncommon. Of course, the underwing is the "killer feature" for this species and it was also the best weather to see the feature i.e. dull light and I got lucky with some photos as below!

Well worth a look if you are in the area and well done to local birder Steve Rowe, who I believe found them.....

Two female American Wigeons both showing off their diagnostic brilliant white axillaries (armpit) compared to the greyer axillaries of the female Eurasian Wigeon (bottom right)

Two female American Wigeons facing each other at either end of the photo. Showing subtly different head shape (higher forehead) to nearby Eurasians

Female American Wigeon (the more subtle of the two)

Female American Wigeon (the most striking of the two) with Eurasian Wigeon
Male Eurasian and Female American Wigeons

Two female American Wigeons
Spot the Yank?


  1. Great photos and an interesting post Chris. I've been trawling the Cornish websites for photos of these birds and have only seen poor shots so far, so these are much appreciated!

  2. Hi Chris, just want to echo what Matt said. I have too been trying to find pics of these birds, and wow have you delivered, a very educational post. But how lucky to have two Yanks in a flock of just 70 Wigeon!! If only this was the standard ratio then we'd have over ten of them...

  3. Thanks for the nice feedback Steve/Matt. Glad it was of interest. Certainly well worth a visit if either of you are down that way. Let's keep checking those Wigeon!