Why the wigeon whistles so tenderly (046)

Have you ever wondered who keeps whistling in the dark during the winter months? Well, that is the wigeon declaring eternal love for his little wife. And do you know the origin of his yellow forehead? Listen to this romantic tale:

Every evening Princess Smia settles down on the banks of the big lake to indulge herself as she listens to the light sounds which her beloved conjures out of his flute on the large island where he lives. Every melody bears witness to his love. “Do not lose courage, we are made for one another,” his whistling seems to whisper in her ear. That evening tears streamed down the cheeks of the princess. Her father, the king, had threatened to have her lover killed if he were to set one foot on his territory. He had a better marriage partner in mind than the son of a chief of some primitive tribe. On his orders all the canoes moored along the lake side were hauled up and put under cover every evening and in the daytime the guards kept a special eye on them. How could Smia possibly meet up with her lover? Things looked grim for her. But enchanted by the music of her dream prince Princess Smia hatches a plan. One moonless night she weaves gourds together with reed stalks and knots them around her middle. Then she swims the long distance out to the island belonging to the man of her dreams. The night is dark and she swims towards the sounds of his flute. The water is cold, the island far away: it all seems like an impossible task. Though the sound of the music seems to be getting closer, she starts getting undercooled and finds it harder and harder to swim on. Her prince charming senses that his beloved is in danger and calls upon the shaman for help. She tells him that she can only save Smia by turning her into a duck. But that means that she can never regain her human form. He agrees and a little while later he sees Smia in the shape of a duck swimming effortlessly towards the banks of the island. The prince is relieved at her being saved from a certain death, but is grief stricken at the thought that she will always remain a duck. He wants to be with her for ever and ever. So he asks the shaman to respect his wishes and to turn him into a duck too.

To this very day they swim around together and he continues to enchant his little wife with his tender whistling. Ever since these ducks have been been called wigeons. The large groups of wigeons you see swimming around are all descendants of Smia, who defied her father’s choice of husband, putting her life at risk for the man of her dreams. The yellow headdress of the chief’s son is still clearly visible in the yellow on the male wigeon’s forehead.
Because of their whistling, wigeons are also referred to as ‘whistling ducks’. Wigeons breed in Scandinavian countries and Iceland in the summer. Since the seventies several hundred thousand wigeons spend the winter months here in The Netherlands from September to April, especially in the water-rich north and west of the country. In the Wadden islands and in the delta area of the Schelde you will often find large groups of them. While plants play a prominent part on their menu,  female wigeons also eats a lot of mosquitoes. She needs the protein for laying the eggs. The female is quite plain to look at, whereas the male has the characteristic yellow forehead. Only the male whistles.


© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl

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Els Baars