This duck winters on lakes, wetlands, and fields in New Mexico, the west coast states, the Great Plains, and the eastern seaboard, throughout Mexico and into northern South America. Widgeons are dabbling ducks, grazing on floating and submerged vegetation or foraging in fields. Their short bills are strong and allow the ducks to dislodge rooted vegetation. They often occur in flocks foraging in fallow fields where they consume waste grains and some insects and other invertebrates. Young ducklings feed primarily on insects. Widgeons also frequent deeper waters than other ducks where they may steal food from diving ducks and other birds there.

Males show a distinctive green patch extending from the eye back along the side of the head. The top of the head is white and the throat and lower face a speckled gray. The sides are brown with white striping along the outer edges of black wings with white patches at the sides of the rump. Females are less colorful, a common situation in birds.

The breeding range is farther north from Alaska down through central and western Canada and into the northwestern United States. Females build a nest on dry land, creating a shallow depression concealed by surrounding vegetation where she lays up to a dozen eggs. The ducklings are precocial and are able to feed themselves after hatching. The young are protected by the female during their pre-flight weeks and are able to take flight from 7 to 9 weeks after hatching.

Ducks Unlimited estimates that the Widgeon breeding population is upwards of three million birds, having fluctuated between two and three million over the past 70 years. The Audubon Society predicts that climate warming will reduce the breeding habitat of the Widgeon in the United States and substantially in southern Canada, as new range opens up in far northern Canada and along the north slope of Alaska around Prudhoe Bay.

These can be long-lived birds, with the oldest reported to have lived over 21 years.