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A few days ago, I was talking with a friend, Dan Weisz, about nature photography and birds. He asked me if I’d ever heard of the term “Storm Wigeon.” I had not. He told me that the term was used by hunters to describe a male American Wigeon with unusual plumage. Dan advised me that none of the bird guides used the term but that I could find it mentioned on various duck hunting sites. We also agreed that, based on these sites’ descriptions, there was a Storm Wigeon that both of us had seen, wintering in a local park.
I was very intrigued by what Dan had told me so I did some on-line research. I quickly discovered that Dan was absolutely right, that none of the birding websites even discussed the existence of this unusual looking duck. But, there is abundant chatter about Storm Wigeons on the hunting sites. Duck hunters love to shoot this bird. Consequently, many of the photos of Storm Wigeons on the hunting sites are of dead birds. Go figure.
Now, really intrigued, I went to the park where Dan and I had seen this bird and made some photographs.
Male American Wigeons are uniformly described as having white crowns, gray speckled cheeks and necks, and an iridescent green stripe that resembles an inverted Nike logo on each side of their faces. Here’s a photo that I took yesterday of a “standard” male American Wigeon. A very pretty bird, you’ll agree.
Storm Wigeons (sometimes referred to on the hunters’ sites as “White-cheeked Wigeons”) have white or golden cheeks on their faces and white or golden necks. The gray speckling that characterizes most male wigeons is absent. Here’s our local Storm Wigeon, with golden facial and neck plumage.
Pretty neat, isn’t it? This is an obvious color variation on the standard wigeon scheme. Quite a beautiful bird and I hope no one ever shoots him.
Here’s a picture of our Storm Wigeon with his girlfriend.
In this image you can see that the unusual plumage includes the bird’s entire neck. Also, the green stripes on the bird’s face merge on the back of his head. On standard American Wigeons the stripe is separated by gray speckled plumage at the back of the head and nape of the neck.
There are enough accounts of Storm Wigeons on line to suggest that this plumage variation is much more than a one-off but is, in fact, a fairly significant color variation in this species. The hunting websites estimate that between one in 500 and one in 1000 wigeons manifest this variation. I suspect that this is a wild guess, but it is true that Storm Wigeons are pretty unusual. I’ve seen hundreds of wigeons over the years and this is the only one of its type that I’ve ever seen.
Birding enthusiasts have a tendency to go a bit gaga over Red-tailed Hawk color morphs. Birding field guides always talk about these hawk color morphs and some birders even argue that certain hawk color morphs comprise separate subspecies. Why not with wigeons? Their lobby just isn’t as strong as the hawks’ lobby, I suppose.
One last thought about Storm Wigeons. There is a separate wigeon species known as the Eurasian Wigeon that rarely shows up in the United States (as the name implies, it is an Old World Species). Male Eurasian Wigeons have dark rufous heads and necks and they lack the green facial stripe. These birds sometimes mate with American Wigeons, producing plumage variations from both the Eurasian and American Wigeon standard. I wonder if Storm Wigeons are the result of interbreeding between Eurasian and American Wigeons or whether they represent a genetic variant only among American Wigeons?
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, all images shot at ISO 500 and f8. The first image at 1/800, the second at 1/320, the third at 1/640.