I’VE GOT a mental image of the Wigeon but I realise, when I start drawing the real life bird from the Main Hide here at Anglers Lake, that it doesn’t quite fit. For one thing, when I see this drake from in front I can see that its head is more rounded than I imagined. And I’ve over estimated its size; when this drake swims close to on the shore I’m surprised to see that the he is the same size as a Tufted Duck that is loafing by the water’s edge. The size ranges of the two species overlap but in general the Tufted is the smaller species.
It’s only after I’ve been drawing for a while that I realise that this drake has a companion; the female. As I’ve written in my note she ‘easily blends into the background of grey, rippled water and stony banks’. But she does make her presence known when a rival female swims by. It’s the duck rather than the drake who challenges the rival.
The Latin name for the Wigeon is Anas penelope. In Greek mythology penelops was a sacred bird, a purple-striped duck. Penelope is better known as the wife of Odysseus who stayed faithful to him during his 20 years away, fighting in the Trojan War and on his protracted voyage home. Her determination in dealing with rapacious suitors in her husband’s absence seems to fit with this female Wigeon’s behaviour. One legend has it that Penelope, daughter of Icarius of Sparta, was exposed at birth – the traditional Spartan way of weeding out any weaker offspring – but she was rescued and nurtured by penelops the duck.
But I wonder if the connection between the Wigeon and Penelope actually refers to the web-like pattern of the female. Penelope promised that she would choose one of the suitors as her husband when she had finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law. Secretly, she unravelled her weaving every night so ‘Penelope’s web’ has become a phrase for any project that is indefinitely delayed. A possible derivation of the name Penelope comes from the Greek for ‘web-face’ or ‘weft-face’.