- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant but very sparsely distributed throughout the state; regular in winter at several sites, including the Lower Mississippi River. The American Wigeon was a rare species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The American Wigeon’s primary breeding range extends from Alaska south through Canada’s Prairie Provinces and the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region. Smaller numbers are found east through the northern Great Lakes and along the St. Lawrence River valley. Highest breeding densities are largely restricted to the tundra and boreal forest regions of Alaska and western Canada, and to the prairie potholes of North Dakota. Figure 1 illustrates the wigeon’s relative abundance within that portion of its breeding range sampled by the federal Breeding Bird Survey (BBS).
A game species, the American Wigeon is assigned a Moderately High Continental Priority by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and a Continental Concern Score of 10/20 by Partners in Flight.
A short- to medium-distance migrant that winters along the west coast from Alaska south to Baja California, and in the southern United States and Central America.
A dabbler and upland grazer feeding primarily on plants, seeds, waste grains, and invertebrates.
Minnesota is primarily a thoroughfare for American Wigeons traveling to and from the core of their breeding range in Canada’s boreal regions. Indeed, when Roberts wrote his treatise on the birds of Minnesota in 1932, there were no confirmed nesting records for the American Wigeon in the state. Nevertheless, the occasional occurrence of pairs in late spring and early summer led him to speculate that it might be a rare summer resident. Most observations were in southwestern and west-central Minnesota, including a pair at Heron Lake in Jackson County in 1898, 2 pairs at Lake Benton in Lincoln County in 1928, and 2 pairs seen in Grant County in 1929.
Even though these early records of potential nesting pairs were in western Minnesota, future field observations would confirm that the American Wigeon is more of a northern species than a species of the western prairie potholes. Green and Janssen (1975) noted that despite scattered breeding records in southern Minnesota, the species was primarily a summer resident in north-central Minnesota and adjacent counties. It was most common in Itasca and Beltrami Counties. South and west of this primary breeding range there were 9 confirmed nesting reports, from Becker, Grant, Lake, Le Sueur, Lincoln, Mahnomen, Otter Tail, Sibley, and Stearns Counties.
Janssen (1987) included a similar distribution map, which delineated the north-central region of the state, from eastern Kittson and Marshall Counties east to northern St. Louis County, and south to northern Cass and northern Aitkin Counties, as the primary breeding range. He identified 11 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970. Eight of the counties (Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Itasca, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Polk, and St. Louis) were located within the core of the species’ breeding distribution; 3 counties were located farther south (Lac qui Parle, Stearns, and Todd). When Hertzel and Janssen (1998) published an updated account of counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970, only one county, Grant, was added to the list.
By 2014, the Minnesota Biological Survey had recorded 27 breeding season locations of the American Wigeon. The majority of locations (17) were in the Prairie Parkland and Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Provinces of western Minnesota; 8 were located in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, and 2 were within the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province. Koochiching and Lake of the Woods Counties and portions of Beltrami and St. Louis Counties, regions where the species does occur, had yet to be surveyed (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
MNBBA participants reported 55 American Wigeon records from 1.0% (48/4,734) of the surveyed atlas blocks and from 0.9% (21/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in only 3 blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The birds were reported from 22 of Minnesota’s 87 counties (1 record straddled Cass and Morrison Counties), and breeding was confirmed in 2 counties: Lac qui Parle and Marshall. More than half of the records were located in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, followed by the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province. Scattered records, including 1 breeding record in Lac qui Parle County, were reported in southern Minnesota.
Because of its sparse distribution in the state, it is difficult to know if the species’ distribution has changed over the past 100 years or if it was simply overlooked amid the smaller wetlands of Minnesota’s northern forests. The absence of breeding records in the late 1800s and early 1900s compared with the relative prominence of records in north-central Minnesota beginning in the mid-1900s may reflect a change in the species’ distribution that is similar to that observed across North America. Gradually wigeons have decreased in abundance in the prairie potholes of the United States and Canada, while their numbers have increased significantly in Alaska and their range has expanded east across the northern Great Lakes region and the Maritime Provinces (Mini et al. 2014). Factors responsible for these changes may be related to the loss of suitable habitat in the prairie potholes coupled with the creation of more suitable habitat in other regions, especially the creation of more impoundments specifically managed for waterfowl populations (Mini et al. 2014).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.