American wigeon breed in northwestern North America, from northwest states up through Canada and into Alaska, and can be seen elsewhere on the continent when migrating and overwintering. This duck winters on the Chesapeake Bay, as well as along the Pacific, Gulf, and southern Atlantic coasts, and throughout Mexico and into Central America.
American wigeon are dabbling ducks that feed in shallow wetlands, including ponds, lakes, and salt marshes. They often go “bottoms up” for food, and also leave the water to forage on grasses and sedges in wet meadows and pastures. They feed mainly on aquatic plants, but also on some insects and mollusks. They regularly feed on aquatic plants brought up from the bottom by diving ducks.
When American wigeon are on the Chesapeake Bay, they are most often found in fresh or brackish estuarine bays where submerged plants such as wild celery, pondweeds, and wigeon grass grow.
The population of American wigeon declined by about half in the 1980s due to severe drought in northern prairie grounds where this duck breeds. They have since recovered significantly.
Eggs and young are probably subject to the same predators as most surface-feeding ducks, although there is not enough collected data to know for sure. Crows and skunks reportedly steal wigeon eggs. Adult birds are widely hunted in the U.S. in the fall, subject to federal limits.
American wigeon renew pair bonds each year, and usually pair up while still on their wintering grounds before migrating north. Females build nests on the ground, in tall grass or shrubs, and line them with grasses and down. They lay clutches of 3-13 eggs and are solely responsible for incubating them. Once the ducklings hatch, the mother assumes sole responsibility for raising them. She leads her young into open-water areas to feed, and will protect them by quacking loudly to distract an intruder while they scurry for cover. She will continue to protect them and stay with them until they are nearly full grown. She will chase off other ducklings as well, including of her own species, but if one or more are particularly persistent she may accept them eventually.
American wigeon are among the most abundant North American ducks and are neither threatened nor endangered, yet they are still below their continental population goal.
Johnsgard, Paul. Waterfowl of North America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973, pp. 211-220.