Winter ducks - the stuff of myth and legend

December 28, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I'm no fan of winter. Nor Christmas to be frank. But this dark time of year does have a silver lining or two if I look for them.

One of those silver linings is the arrival of our winter ducks - my favourites being goldeneye and wigeon - beautiful things to see (and hear!)


I took a dawn walk with my old friend Pumpkin Turner this morning at my old "patch" - a place called Fobney, a mile or two south of Reading, just off the M4 - hoping perhaps to see a sandpiper or two or a winter duck or three dozen?

I wasn't disappointed - four beautiful wigeon, two shoveler and five teal were floating around the small lakes on Fobney island - lakes that had been created to form a wildlife habitat only a few short years ago - and the wildlife had certainly taken to their new habitat.

I haven't got time to blog in detail about the ducks that we watched this morning, under a beautiful sunrise, but I will paste a piece below I first wrote about the wigeon two years ago on my "zoonames" website (that I've hardly had time to even get going what with a baby son to look after etc).

I hope you've had a very merry Christmas (not too merry though... I know you lot) and wish you the best new year ever.






Anas penelope
[Linnaeus, 1758]
Now, then. The wigeon. One of my two favourite ducks  - the other being the goldeneye.

Why do I like the wigeon so much? I'm not sure to be honest but they're very pretty ducks and very impressive. I love the sound of wigeon also - all that nasal whinnying and whistling - they're great fun to watch.

The wigeon has a scientific name rooted in classical mythology - something I certainly appreciate (always have) and a subject that I'll return to many times I expect (especially when I start to explain the scientific names of our lepidoptera).

We've seen before that Anas means duck in Latin, but what does Penelope mean or where does the name Penelope come from - does Anas Penelope mean "Penelope's duck" and who, if that is true, was "Penelope"?

Penelope in classical Greek mythology was the wife of the hero Odysseus. Penelope was celebrated for her faithfulness and patience.
For the 20 years that her husband was away during and after the Trojan War (think Homer's"Odyssey"), Penelope remained true to him and helped prevent his kingdom from falling into other hands. 
Penelope's parents were Prince Icarius of Sparta and the nymph Periboea. 
Periboea hid her infant daughter (Penelope) as soon as she was born, knowing that Icarius had wanted a son. 
As soon as Icarius discovered the baby girl, he threw her into the sea to drown. 
However, a family of ducks rescued her. 
Seeing this as an omenIcarius named the child Penelope (after the Greek word for penelopsmeaning "duck") and raised her as his favourite child. 

I'm sure the wigeon was arbitrarily given the title of the duck that saved Penelope from drowning (it could have been any species after all), but that matters not I guess.

So.... the specific name for the wigeon literally means "the saviour of Penelope" and originates in penelops, as described above.

Maybe that's why the wigeon is one of my (if not my) favourite ducks - with a name rooted in classical Greek mythology and named after a character in one of my favourite stories of all time ("The Odyssey"). 

I've been lucky enough to visit the fabled home of Odysseus, twice (in fact that's where I proposed to my wife) and we hope to return one day. I may take my moth-eaten copy of "The Odyssey" to read once again, on the beautiful beaches of the green Greek island of Kephalonia...

Anyway.... I'm rambling.

The scientific name for the wigeon, a mixture of Latin and Greek, literally means:

"Duck  - duck (that saved Penelope in classical Greek myth)".



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