Mareca americana

Status:  Common, locally abundant, regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Rare regular breeder north-central and northwest, rare casual elsewhere. Rare casual summer visitor statewide. Rare local regular winter visitor Platte and North Platte Rivers Valleys, rare casual elsewhere.

Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM7676, 12 Apr 1913 Lancaster Co.

Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized. This species was recently moved from genus Anas to genus Mareca, based on genetic studies (Chesser et al 2017).

A normal variant in male American Wigeons is the colloquially-named “Storm Wigeon”, or “White-cheeked Wigeon”, prized by hunters, that has white cheeks instead of the usual gray (Mini et al 2020). One was in Antelope Co 8 Apr 2018 and possibly the same bird was there 31 Mar 2020.

Spring: Feb 4, 5 , 5 <<<>>> Jun 11, 11, 11

The initiation of migration is coincident with the thaw of frozen rivers, lakes and ponds, typically in late Feb. Numbers peak in mid-Apr, with a few stragglers into early May and even into June. Late dates above are from locations where breeding was not observed; some of these are, however, from the western Sandhills breeding range where it is a rare breeder. Later dates are 16 Jun 2020 Butler Co, and 18 Jun 2020 Lincoln Co.

  • High counts: 2581 at North Platte NWR, Scotts Bluff Co 14 Apr 1995, 2200 at Harvard WPA, Clay Co 9 Apr 2000, and 1350 at Swanson Reservoir, Hitchcock Co 17 Apr 2002.

Summer: Currently, American Wigeon is a rare breeder in the state. Although there are few documented records of breeding, only three since the 1960s (Mollhoff 2001, 2016, Jorgensen 2012), there are numerous summer sightings in areas where breeding might occur. Most of these are in the western Sandhills in southern Sheridan, northern Garden, and Grant Cos, extending northeastward to Valentine NWR in Cherry Co. Confirmed breeding was reported by Mollhoff (2001) at Valentine NWR, Cherry Co and by Mollhoff (2016) in southeast Garden Co, and there is a single breeding record for the Rainwater Basin, a hen with a brood of 10 on 30 Jun 2001 (Jorgensen 2012). Reports from counties adjacent to the breeding range shown in the above map that might indicate local nesting are from Scotts Bluff, Sioux, Dawes, McPherson, and Thomas Cos. There were several reports at Funk WPA, Phelps Co 1997-2001 suggestive of local nesting there.

Fall:  Aug 15, 17, 21<<<>>>Jan 9, 9, 11

The beginning of true fall migration is evident in early Sep; earlier reports may be of molt migrants. Baldassare (2014) stated that failed breeders and males begin to assemble in Jun-Jul to molt. Five reports from Lake Ogallala, Keith Co 15 Jun-27 Jul suggest this is a molt location, as it is for Common Merganser (see that species). The Rainwater Basin may also be such a site; there are 13 reports 16 Jun-22 Jul. A group of 10 probable molt migrants was in Harlan Co 27 Jul 2000.

Likely summer stragglers away from probable breeding and molt locations were two at Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co 16 Jun 2001, a pair in Hayes Co 19 Jun 2012, singles in Lancaster Co 14 Jun 1986, 15 Jun 2002, 28 Jun 2006, 21 Jul 1988, and 29 Jul 2003, one in Antelope Co 2 Jul 2009, and one in Johnson Co 3 Jul 2016.

Peak migration occurs Oct-Nov, but significant numbers may persist into mid-Nov and as late as early Jan. A late high count was the 624 at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 30-31 Dec 2011.

  • High counts: 1670 at Lake McConaughy 15 Oct 2000, 1500 at Palmer Lake, southwest Sheridan Co 11 Nov 1994, and 1500 at Lake Ogallala 17 Oct 2015. “Thousands” were at Winters Creek Lake, Scotts Bluff Co 7 Nov 2004.

WinterSmall numbers may remain well into Dec and even Jan given open water, although wintering is regular mostly along the North Platte River Valley and is rare east of Dawson Co and elsewhere in the state. As many as 286 wintered on Lake Ogallala 1999-2000, and 100 wintered in Scotts Bluff Co 2002-2003 and 2003-2004. A Scottsbluff CBC high was the 684 there 18 Dec 2004. Numbers are lowest 12 Jan- 3 Feb; most such records are from the Platte and North Platte River Valleys and Lancaster Co. In recent winters, mid-winter records are increasing; in winter 2018-2019 there were reports from five locations away from the Platte River Valley including 13 at Enders Reservoir, Chase Co 14 Jan, and in 2019-2020 there were four such records, including singles on Lake Yankton and Lewis and Clark Lake, both in Cedar Co, 2 Feb.


CBC: Christmas Bird Count
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WPA: Waterfowl Production Area (Federal)


Photograph (top) of an American Wigeon at Retriever Marsh, Sarpy Co, 30 March 2018 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Baldassarre, G. 2014. Ducks, geese, and swans of North America. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Chesser, R.T., K.J. Burns, C. Cicero, J.L. Dunn, A.W. Kratter, I.J. Lovette, P.C. Rasmussen, J. V. Remsen, Jr., J.D. Rising, D.F. Stotz, and K. Winker. 2017. Fifty-eighth supplement to the American Ornithological Society’s Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 134: 751-773.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2012.  Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska.  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Mini, A.E., E.R. Harrington, E. Rucker, B.D. Dugger, and T.B. Mowbray. 2020. American Wigeon (Mareca americana), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2020.  American Wigeon (Mareca americana). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 4 Aug 2020