Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wherein I Propose a Happier Ending for the American Wigeon

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In the dim light of dawn at the South Cape May Meadows, NJ, today, the continuing male American Wigeon whistled, unexpectedly for this time of year, as if to get my attention.

In my previous post, below, I revealed this bird is injured and probably doomed.

That's pretty depressing.  But in a sense, this wigeon has already beaten the odds if we think ecologically about it.  Why?  Because most birds, and most small animals of other classes, die in their first year of life. This bird is a little more than a year old, he made that first cut.

I remember teaching population ecology to my students at Rutgers, and when we got to this part, they were like, wait. . .what?  But it's true. Among other things, this explains why we can shoot hundreds of thousands of ducks per year without causing population declines.  Those ducks were going to die anyway.  This is called compensatory mortality - doesn't work for all species or situations, but with intelligent application, it works pretty well.

Anyhow, the wigeon's whistle made me think about him.  He's not going to migrate any farther south this fall, nor go north next spring.  He'll probably molt into a fine looking breeding plumage male over the course of this fall.  And there he'll be.

But, consider. . . ducks pair on their wintering grounds.  A boatload of wigeon winter in Cape May, at least until it freezes over, if it freezes over.  Suppose our wigeon attracts the attention of a female that arrives from the north, say Manitoba (you know some females, always worrying about the injured male and wanting to take care of him....). They fall in love, and become inseparable. We get lucky with a mild winter. April comes, it's time to go.  If our male wigeon were healthy, what would happen is the pair would migrate north together, back to Manitoba, the female's natal grounds.  That's how it's supposed to work.

It can't work out that way in this case. But what if, instead of heading north without her mate, the female wigeon stays with him?  I'm not saying this will happen. But it could. If it does, we get our first state breeding record for American Wigeon, our injured but tough male wigeon's genes stay in the gene pool where they belong, and we get to watch a brood of baby wigeon grow up.

Rose colored glasses sometimes fit well.


  1. Don,
    I like the scenario for this widgeon. I am cheering for him!

    1. Yessireeee!! Me too. I've grown fond of this guy, maybe I'm just an old softee. But here's to hope!