Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mallard x American Wigeon Hybrid

I wanted to post to share the cool duck I saw today, but first a few other recent updates.

I've been birding around Mississauga and Toronto quite a bit, and plenty of new birds are arriving, including Spotted Sandpiper, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Wren, Blue-headed Vireo and Black-and-white and Yellow Warbler.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Not a migrant, but I'm very happy with how this House Sparrow turned out.

After checking the normal areas for warblers and other landbirds at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Etobicoke this morning, I was vacillating on whether to bother walking out on the peninsula, as it is rarely very exciting after mid-April. I'm glad I did go though, as I happened upon this guy:

It doesn't match up with any single species of duck, and the reasonably small size (slightly smaller than a mallard) and sleek build suggest a hybrid of wild-type parents (although the actual cross may have been in captivity) rather than a domestic abomination escaped from somebody's backyard pond.

The plumage matches Mallard x American Wigeon hybrids, although it is probably not possible to rule out a Mallard x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid on any basis besides probability. I thought the greyish sides might indicate Eurasian rather than American Wigeon, but this is apparently not the case.

Interestingly, while looking for more information on this cross, I discovered that this individual has probably been alive for a minimum of nearly five years. What was presumably the same bird was seen at Colonel Sam Smith Park in April 2012, March 2011, April 2010 and February 2009 (and here). 

A very similar bird was also photographed in April 2010 near Detroit. It is impossible to prove, but I strongly suspect this is the same bird. This hybrid combination is highly variable, and the Michigan bird seems identical to my bird, something which hasn't been true of any other picture I've been able to find online!

There is always the possibility that this is an escaped bird, as hybridization is more likely to happen in captivity where birds may not be able to find a mate of the right species, but given this birds long survival in the wild and clear migration it seems more likely that it is a wild bird. Although the bird was fairly tame today, it was more wary than the nearby Mallards and Gadwall, and didn't seem to be having any trouble finding food in the wild. 

It isn't often that is possible to trace the history of a bird like this, and it is interesting to see that it returns to the same spot every spring. This sighting certainly made my day!

The speculum sometimes looked green like a Wigeon and sometimes blue like a Mallard.

March 2014 edit: The bird was seen again at Humber Bay Park on March 2, 2014! No link possible as it was posted on Facebook. Also, here's a few more previous sightings of this bird found on eBird:

Colonel Sam Smith December 29, 2012

March 2016 edit: This bird is still hanging out on the Toronto waterfront for at least part of the year. That's over 8 years from the first sighting I know of in February 2009! Here's a couple of recent checklists showing the bird:

Mimico Waterfront Park February 15, 2016
Colonel Sam Smith March 6, 2016

January 2018 edit: The hybrid is still around! Here's a recent checklist: 


  1. Hi Reuven,

    I have seen and photographed this hybrid on and off over the last couple of years along the west Toronto lakeshore including Mar. 2, 2014 at Humber Bay East. I was under the impression that it was a Northern Pintail x Mallard hybrid. I would appreciate your comments.

  2. I though it was a pintail hybrid when photographing it, but after doing some research wigeon seems more likely as the other parent. Here's a link with some similar birds:
    All the pintail hybrid photos seem to be more slender and show a white neckring:

    There seem to be two very distinct plumages to the wigeonxmallard combination, the other showing a wigeon-like head and mallard-like body (Google it to see what I mean). I wonder if it's a matter of which species is the male vs. the female parent?

  3. Thanks for your help. I was looking at some pictures I took last Nov. 3,2013 at Rotary Park of what I believe is the same bird. The light was quite bright and the bird was quite close. They appear to show more characteristics which are indicative of an American Wigeon hybrid.