Worcestershire Record No. 18 April 2005 pp. 9-14


John Hodson

The wigeon is a well known and extremely numerous wintering duck in NW Europe. Its distribution is largely coastal, though in recent years there has been a move inland in both Britain and elsewhere. The UK breeding population is very small with only about 500 pairs nesting in the Pennines, the east and central Scottish uplands and the far north. However, most of the UK wintering population, estimated at 250,000, are migrants.

Many have been caught and ringed and a lot of information gathered concerning breeding areas, migration routes, mortality etc. From this data we know that wigeon wintering in Britain breed between Scandinavia and central Siberia, especially in the basins of the Ob and Pechora rivers. The majority of this data relates to birds caught at duck decoys in the SE counties of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

Most of the wigeon passing through and wintering in Scotland and northern England breed in Iceland and a proportion of both populations move on to winter in Ireland especially during hard winters.

The majority of the birds caught in the midland region have been from catches made since 1968 at Blithfield in Staffordshire. None have been ringed in Worcestershire, thus making our birds ‘of origin unknown’. This changed in 1996 after a member of the Wychavon Ringing Group suggested we attempt a sample catch from the c1000 birds that regularly winter at Bredons Hardwick. To achieve this we had to enlist the services of Steve Dodd, a ringer with a cannon netting licence from across the border in Herefordshire.

Our first attempt was carried out with no experience of wigeon catching and very little preparation apart from the scattering of grain in an area thought to be suitable to set the nets. Despite this our catch of 293 wigeon proved to be (and still is I believe) the largest single cannon net catch of wigeon taken in the UK. The following year with our newly found belief that wigeon catching was easy, ended with a complete failure to catch anything. However we have caught them in every year since then and have amassed to date a total catch of 1826 wigeon, this including re-trapping 97 of our own birds. A number of other species have been caught as by-catch, including 356 mallard, 38 teal, 31 coot, 27 canada geese, 1 shelduck, 1 pintail and 1 red-crested pochard.

From the list of around 54 recoveries it can be seen that a similar number of birds have been recovered in the UK as in Russia, the difference being that the UK birds are from the winter period with the Russian birds being from the summer. The list also shows that nearly all recoveries are of birds that have been shot with many of the Russian birds being from the breeding or even the moulting period. Although we may look upon the shooting of birds during the breeding season as ‘bad form’ it must be remembered that wigeon are a quarry species throughout their range with around 60,000 being shot per year in the UK alone. Without shooting there would be very few recoveries: the long distance movement of a male and a female ringed together at Bredons Hardwick on 24th February 2002 and subsequently shot together 72 days later, 3119km away in Russia on 7th May would go unrecorded.

The maps are included to illustrate the incredible distances travelled by these birds in order to get shot, however they need to be viewed with caution. The long distance Russian recoveries are probably accurate enough in denoting the route taken by the birds between the two points even if they are from different years. The UK map shows the ringing site with most of the recovery sites showing where birds have wintered in following years, so the connecting lines do not denote any route taken. The European map also shows individual Italian, French and Irish birds that have wintered in different areas in subsequent years together with birds that may have been on passage such as the Danish and Dutch recoveries.

Of interest is the bird recovered on the island of Grimsey situated off the north coast of Iceland. It shows that Icelandic birds which normally winter further north or in Ireland do come into contact with the more southerly wintering Russian and Scandinavian populations.

Finally an amusing recovery arrived during the writing of this article. An adult female wigeon ringed at Bredons Hardwick on 8th February 2003 has been recovered from Karlstad in the county of Varmland in Sweden. It was reported as ‘ring only’ with the finding details as ‘Found in Post Office machine’ on 19th December 2004. The assumption is that someone had shot the bird, removed the ring and posted it off to the BTO. It then fell from the envelope whilst passing through the postal machinery, resulting in the true place of recovery remaining unknown. Or could things have become muddled in translation from the Swedish and that ‘Post Office machine’ was a post office van or possibly a post box? The lesson is that if you find a ring, open it out and flatten it before Sellotaping it to the letter.

None of this work could have been carried out without the help and co-operation of the many people involved. We would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank them all:

Firstly the land owners - Croome Estate Trustees and the tenant farmer Stuart Pearman; Steve Dodd the cannon net licence holder and provider of equipment; and Peter Stewart for producing the maps. And last but very definitely not least, all the members and friends of Wychavon and other ringing groups who put out bait, set nets and helped with the extraction, ringing and processing of the birds all in a varied set of weather conditions and were then asked to pay for the privilege. We thank them all, even those who attended only once, never to return.


HARRISON, G.R., DEAN, A.R., RICHARDS, J.R., SMALLSHIRE, D. 1982. The Birds of the West Midlands. The West Midland Bird Club.
OWEN, M. & WILLIAMS, G. 1976. Winter distribution and habitat requirements of Wigeon in Britain. Wild Fowl 27:83-90
WERNHAM, C.V., TOMS, M.P., MARCHANT, J.H., CLARK, J.A., SIRIWARDENA, G.M. & BAILLIE, S.R. (eds). 2002. The Migration Atlas: movements of the birds of Britain and Ireland. T. and A.D. Poyser, London.

Map showing ringing recoveries of wigeon associated with Bredons Hardwick and eastern Russia. The lines link site of ringing and recovery and do not of course necessarily show the actual route used by the birds.

Map showing ringing recoveries in Europe of wigeon associated with Bredons Hardwick, near Tewkesbury. The lines link site of ringing and recovery and do not of course necessarily show the actual route used by the birds, particularly in cases when ringing and recovery are in different years.

Map showing ringing recoveries of wigeon associated with Bredons Hardwick, near Tewkesbury, within Great Britain and Ireland. The lines link site of ringing and recovery and do not of course necessarily show the actual route used by the birds, particularly in cases when ringing and recovery are in different years.

Click to see the Table listing all the ringing recoveries associated with Bredons Hardwick

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