Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
ANAS AMERICANA, Gmel.
PLATE CCCLXXXIX.--MALE AND FEMALE.
This lively and very handsome Duck is abundant during winter at New
Orleans, where it is much esteemed on account of the juiciness of its flesh, and
is best known by the name of Zinzin. In the Western Country, and in most parts
of the Eastern and Middle States, it is called the Bald Pate. Early in
September it enters the United States by their northern extremities, as well as
from Texas; and in both these regions it is now well known to breed in nearly
equal numbers. Those which retreat south-westward remain along the coast and in
the interior of the Floridas, as well as all that portion of the Gulf of Mexico
extending to the mouths of the Mississippi, where they remain until the latter
part of April, sometimes even until the middle of May, as they have but a
comparatively short journey to perform in order to arrive in Mexico in time to
breed. On the coast of the Atlantic they keep in the marshes in company with
various species of the same family, being in a manner indifferent as to their
associates. During early spring, in Louisiana, they are often seen alighted on
extensive plains that have very little water on them.
While advancing along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, in April 1837, I
and my party observed this species in considerable numbers; and during the whole
of our stay in Texas, we daily saw and very frequently procured Widgeons. There
they were found in ponds of brackish water, as well as in the fresh-water
streams. Before we left that country they were all paired, and I was informed
by the Honourable M. FISHER, Secretary to the Texian Navy, that a good number of
them breed in the maritime districts, along, with several other Ducks, and that
he annually received many of the young birds. Their manners at this time frilly
proved the correctness of the statements of all those who spoke to me on this
subject. Indeed my opinion is that some of these birds also propagate in
certain portions of the most southern districts of the Floridas, and in the
Island of Cuba, as I have seen Widgeons in the peninsula in single pairs, in the
beginning of May.
Their retrograde movements in spring, like those of other species, depend
much upon the temperature or the advance of the season; and those which proceed
northward set out on their journey much earlier than those which move in the
opposite direction, the former departing from the middle of March to the 20th of
April. Their first appearance on the waters of the Ohio takes place late in
September or early in October, when they at once throw themselves into the ponds
of the interior, and there remain until the waters are closed by ice, scarcely
any betaking themselves to the rivers, unless to repose on the sand-bars. They
are there, however, less abundant than nearer the sea-coast, and usually
associate with Pintails and Teals, but rarely with Mallards or Dusky Ducks.
Whilst in those retired ponds of the forest, from one to another of which they
roam in quest of food, they are less noisy than most other species, even than
the Pintails, and in this respect resemble the Blue-winged Teals, whose notes
are feeble and delicate. Those of the Widgeon are a soft whistle, somewhat
similar to the word sweet, enunciated as if produced by a flute or a hautboy,
and in my judgment not at all like the hew hew spoken of by WILSON. They are
less shy in those retired places than most species, or are to appearance less
aware of the danger of allowing the sportsman to approach them.
In feeding they immerse their neck and the anterior part of the body,
generally swimming closer together than other Ducks, in consequence of which
habits they are easily neared and often shot in great numbers at a single
discharge. During their stay in those districts they feed on the roots and
seeds of grasses, water-insects, beech-nuts, small fry, and leeches, and are not
so delicate as an article of food as those procured in the rice-fields of South
Carolina, or in the plantations of Louisiana and Florida. On their return in
spring (for in mild winters they remain all the season in Kentucky), they
generally continue until the end of April, and usually pair before they depart;
which induces me to believe that numbers of them breed within the northern
limits of the United States, although I have not heard of any having actually
been seen doing so.
On the lakes near New Orleans, as well as on the Chesapeake, they are not
unfrequently found in company with the Canvass-back Ducks. WILSON mentions
their being partially supplied with food by the industry of the latter; but they
manage very well in most parts without such assistance. When in full security,
the Bald-pates feed at all hours of the day; but in thickly inhabited parts of
the country, they usually seek for food at night or early in the morning.
The flight of this species is rather swift, well sustained, and accompanied
by the whistling sound of the wings usual in birds of this family. They move in
flocks of moderate size, and without much care as to the disposition of their
ranks, being sometimes extended into a front line, sometimes in single file,
frequently mingled confusedly, and flying at a moderate height, whether over the
land or over the water. When they are first started, they fly almost
perpendicularly, in a hurried and rather irregular manner. They walk prettily
and with ease. After heavy falls of rain in our Southern States, they often
alight in the corn-fields, in company with other Ducks, where the ploughed
earth, being quite moist and soft, yields them an abundant supply of worms and
insects, as well as grains of corn, peas, and other equally nutritious
Dr. RICHARDSON informs us that this species breeds in the woody districts
of the Fur Countries, up to their most northern limits, in latitude 80 degrees;
and Mr. TOWNSEND states that it is abundant on the Columbia river; but he has
not furnished me with any account of its breeding, and I have not had an
opportunity of observing it during the season of propagation, as I left Texas
without having found a nest or young.
AMERICAN WIDGEON, Anas americana, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 86.
ANAS AMERICANA, Bonap. Syn., p. 384.
MARECA AMERICANA, Steph. American Widgeon, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor.
Amer., vol. ii. p. 445.
AMERICAN WIDGEON, Anas americana, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 389.
AMERICAN WIDGEON, Anas americana, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 337.
Male, 20 1/2, 34 1/2. Female, 18, 30.
Breeds in Texas, and in the Northern Districts. Abundant in the south and
west in winter. Columbia river. Middle Atlantic districts in autumn and
Bill nearly as long as the head, deeper than broad at the base, depressed
towards the end, the sides nearly parallel, the tip rounded. Upper mandible
with the frontal angles short and obtuse, the dorsal line at first sloping, then
concave, at the end decurved, the ridge broad and flat at the base, then broadly
convex, the edges soft, with about fifty-five internal lamellae, the unguis
obovate, curved abruptly at the end. Nostrils sub-basal, lateral, near the
ride, oblong, pervious. Lower mandible flattened, its angle very long and
rather narrow, the dorsal line very short, slightly convex, the edges soft, with
about seventy lamellae.
Head of moderate size, oblong, compressed. Neck rather long, slender.
Body elongated and slightly depressed. Feet very short; tibia bare for about a
quarter of an inch; tarsus very short, compressed, anteriorly with two series of
scutella, the outer shorter, the rest covered with reticulated annular scales;
toes obliquely scutellate above; first very small, free, with a narrow membrane
beneath; third longest, fourth considerably shorter, second shorter than fourth;
their connecting webs entire, on the edge crenate; the second or inner toe with
a membranous margin. Claws small, slightly arched, compressed, rather acute;
the hind one very small and more curved, that of the middle toe curved outwards,
and having the inner edge dilated.
Plumage dense, soft, blended. Feathers of the head and upper neck oblong,
small, those along the crown and occiput longer; of the lower parts ovate,
glossy, with the extremities of the filaments stiffish. Wings rather long,
little curved, narrow, pointed; the first quill longest, the next scarcely
shorter, the rest rapidly graduated; secondaries very short, broad, obliquely
rounded; the inner elongated and tapering; the tips of the filaments of the
outer web of the first primary are separated and curved a little outwards. Tail
short, rounded and pointed, of sixteen feathers, of which the middle pair are
more pointed and project considerably.
Bill light greyish-blue, with the extremity including the unguis, and a
portion of the margins, black. Iris hazel. Feet light bluish-grey, the webs
darker, the claws dusky. The upper part of the head is white, more or less
mottled with dusky on its sides; the loral space and cheeks reddish-white,
dotted with greenish-black; a broad band from the eye to behind the occiput deep
green. The lower part of the hind neck, the scapulars, and the fore part of the
back, are minutely transversely undulated with brownish-black and light
brownish-red; the hind part similarly undulated with blackish-brown and
greyish-white. The smaller wing-coverts are brownish-grey; the primary quills
and coverts dark greyish-brown; the secondary coverts white, tipped with black.
The speculum is duck-green anteriorly, bounded by the black tips of the
secondary coverts, black behind, internally black, with white streaks, the inner
elongated secondaries having their outer webs black, margined with white, their
inner webs brownish-grey. The tail feathers are light brownish-grey. The
throat is brownish-black; the lower part of the neck in front, and the fore part
of the breast, light brownish-red; the breast, belly, and sides of the rump,
white; the sides of the body finely undulated with white and dusky; the rump
beneath and the lower tail-coverts black.
Length to end of tail 20 1/2 inches, to end of claws 21; extent of wings
34 1/2; bill to frontal processes 1 (7 1/2)/12, along the edge of lower mandible
1 7/12; wing from flexure 11; tail 4 1/2; tarsus 1 7/12; hind toe 4/12, its claw
middle toe 1 8/12; its claw (4 1/2)/12. Weight 1 lb. 14 oz.
The female is considerably smaller. The bill, feet, and iris are coloured
as in the male. The head and upper part of the neck all round, are white or
reddish-white, longitudinally streaked with brownish-black, the top of the head
transversely barred; the lower part of the neck in front and behind, the fore
part of the back, and the scapulars, are blackish-brown, the feathers broadly
margined with brownish-red, and barred with the same, the bars on the back
narrow; the hind part of the back dusky; the upper tail-coverts barred with
white. The wings are greyish-brown; the secondary coverts tipped with white;
the secondary quills are brownish-black, the inner greyish-brown, all margined
with white. The tail-feathers are greyish-brown, margined with white. All the
lower parts are white, excepting the feathers of the sides, and under the tail,
which are broadly barred with dusky and light reddish-brown.
Length to end of tail 18 inches, to end of claws 19 1/2; extent of wings
30; bill along the ridge 1 6/12; wing from flexure 9 8/12; tail 3 9/12; tarsus
1 6/12; middle toe 1 9/12, its claw 3/12. Weight 1 lb. 5 oz.
A very great diversity of colouring exists in this species, which, however,
is not yet properly understood. Although males are often found as described
above, and as represented in the plate, others have a very different appearance.
Thus, an individual shot at the mouth of the Mississippi, in the beginning of
April 1837, has the head and neck brownish-orange, the feathers all minutely
tipped with dark green, the lower fore neck lilac; all the upper parts finely
undulated with white and dusky, as are the sides; the wing-coverts light
brownish-grey; the other parts as described above, but the upper tail-coverts
black at the end. In some individuals the top of the head is reddish-white, in
others light red, in others pure white; in some, most of the smaller
wing-coverts are white, in others grey or brownish-grey; in some the throat is
whitish, in others black. These differences, no doubt, depend upon age and
The American Widgeon has been considered distinct from the European; not on
account of any difference in size or form, or texture of plumage, but because it
has in certain stages a green band on the side of the head, which the European
bird is said not to have. The mirror is the same in both; the wing-coverts are
white or grey in both; the crown is white, or cream-coloured, or orange-brown,
in both; but in the European the head and neck are described as
reddish-chestnut, and in the American as yellowish-white. Now, in fact,
American birds sometimes have the head and neck red, and European birds
sometimes have the green streak on the side of the head. In short, on comparing
specimens from America, with others from India and Norway, I cannot perceive any
essential difference. At the same time, not having traced our Widgeon through
all its gradations, and being equally unacquainted with all those of the
European and Asiatic Widgeon, I cannot positively affirm that Anas Americana is
identical with Anas Penelope.
A male preserved in spirits presents the following characters.
The roof of the mouth is deeply concave, with a median prominent line, and
numerous irregular small tubercles on the sides, with several larger ones at the
fore part. Two large branches of the supra-maxillary nerve run in this ridge,
as in other Ducks. The tongue is 1 inch 5 twelfths long, with numerous
straight, pointed papillae at the base, a median longitudinal groove, and a thin
broadly rounded point. The oesophagus,
Fig. 1 [a b c d], is 10 inches long,
dilating a little on the lower part of the neck, where its diameter is 1/2 inch.
The proventriculus, [b c], is 8 twelfths broad; its glands oblong, 2 twelfths in
length, and occupying a belt 1 inch 4 twelfths in breadth. The gizzard, [e f
g], is extremely large, of a nearly regular elliptical form, placed obliquely,
its length 1 inch 8 twelfths, its breadth 2 1/2 inches; its lateral muscles
extremely large, the left, [e], 1 inch 2 twelfths in thickness, the other, [f],
1 inch and 1 twelfth; the inferior muscle, [g], only 1 twelfth. In the
oesophagus are contained slender leaves of grasses; in the gizzard some of these
leaves and other vegetable matters, small seeds, and a great quantity of sand.
The cuticular lining or epithelium is dense, slightly rugous, much thickened on
the spaces opposite the middle of the lateral muscles. The duodenum, [g h i],
is 5 1/2 inches in its first curve, [g h], and is then reflected for 7 inches,
passes backwards under the kidneys and forms several convolutions. The
intestine, [g h i j k l], is 6 feet 2 inches long, 1/2 inch in diameter in its
duodenal portion, gradually contracts to 4 twelfths at the distance of 18 inches
from the pylorus, again enlarges to 5 twelfths, and near the rectum to 7
twelfths. The rectum is 4 1/2 inches long; the coeca 9 inches, their diameter
for nearly 2 inches being 2 twelfths, after which they are enlarged, their
greatest diameter being 4 twelfths. The liver is large, the right lobe being 3
1/2 inches long, the left 2 1/2.
The trachea, [m], is 7 1/2 inches long, of moderate diameter, the rings
roundish and ossified, about 140 in number, its breadth at the top 4 1/2
twelfths, gradually diminishing to 3 twelfths. At the lower part several of the
rings are united so as to form an irregular dilatation, bulging out into a
rounded sac, [n], on the left side, its greatest diameter being 10 twelfths.
The bronchi are of moderate length, wide, with about 25 half rings. The
contractor muscles are rather strong; and besides the sterno-tracheals, [o p],
there is a pair of cleido-tracheals.
In a female, the gizzard is 2 inches in its greatest diameter; the
intestine is 5 feet 2 inches long. The contents of the oesophagus and stomach
as in the male.