Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Northern Shoveler--Anas clypeata

Male Northern Shoveler at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary .

The graceful Northern Pintail may be the Audrey Hepburn of duckdom, but the Northern Shoveler is the Jimmy Durante of duckdom. Just take a look at that huge bill! It is the largest of any duck.

Female Northern Shoveler at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary .

With that large, spatula-like bill, the Northern Shoveler is a duck built to dabble. It is in fact the ultimate dabbler. It is rare to see it with its rear in the air like other dabblers. It dabbles the surface with its huge bill straining out all kinds of aquatic invertebrates and small crustaceans like snails, and some aquatic plants and seeds.

This is often what you see on a pond or lake. White in front and back.

Although in some ways it resembles the Mallard , it is easy to tell the difference even if you do not see its bill. Notice that the Northern Shoveler above has a white chest and brown sides and a bit of white showing on the tail. It's head is a dark green. An pattern easy to spot at a distance. Now compare with the Mallards dabbling below.

Happy Mallards dabbling at the Huntington Central Park by the Library after the rain refilled the lake.

Mallards have a brown chest, light sides and a iridescent, lighter green head. Note that the colors of the chest and sides are reversed. So even though both ducks have similar colors, the colors are places differently and are slightly different shades. Once you get to know them, the Mallard looks very different from the Northern Shoveler.

Northern Shoveler dabbling.
And of course if you look long enough, the you will see the bills.

Mallard at Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay

Then it is easy to see which duck is which.

Taking a break.

Northern Shovelers out of the water area always easy to identify. Hard to miss that big, old bill. They do dabble for a long time and then finally get out of the water to rest, sun themselves, and do some serious preening.

Couple eating out together. Northern Shoveler couples stay together longer than most ducks.

Northern Shovelers are monogamous for the season. The male Northern Shoveler is a faithful guy as far as drakes (male ducks) go. He stays with his mate all through the season and through the brooding of the eggs. He is more of a gentleman the other drakes--that's for sure.

Northern Shoveler cruising at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary .

The Northern Shoveler really gets into his food and somehow always seems to have a little mud on his face above his bill. He has his head in the water and mud dabbling so much that it would be hard to avoid it. In addition to the marshes, lakes, and pond you may see them in, Northern Shovelers may be found in dirtier, more polluted waters as long as there is food there in the mud. They are not picky as far as the cleanliness of the water.

Group feeding together at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

When you mostly surface dabble and don't often dive or dabble up-side-down in the water, you have to figure out ways to get more out of your dabbling. Northern Shovelers have a technique that stirs the water into a more nutritious soup full of good stuff to dabble. They get together and rotate as if they were tilted spokes on a wheel. They go round and round and dabble all the things that get stirred up. Update: Check out my post Northern Shovelers Feeding Cooperatively for more on this Northern Shoveler technique called "Pin Wheeling."

Group feeding at Huntington Central Park.

More up above doing the same feeding routine at Huntington Lake in Huntington Central Park. Update: See my post on cooperative feeding in a group of Northern Shovelers at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Here is a video I took at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary of a male Northern Shoveler.

I have seen Shovelers at Huntington Central Park--mostly in Lake Huntington on the side by Shipley Nature Center --Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay , San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary , Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve , and many more areas in and around Orange County.

Northern Shoveler flying over Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve .

Next time you are out birding in Orange County, look for the duck with the big schnozzola. They are fun to observe. Northern Shovelers will be dabbling their time away at a lake or pond near you.

Male Northern Shoveler

Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Donna Dewhurst, Photographer)

OC Birder Girl Links


The Wild Ducks of Orange County

American Wigeon


Northern Pintail

Wood Duck or Mandarin Duck?

Northern Shovelers Feeding Cooperatively

Northern Shoveler hen.

Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Dave Menke, Photographer)

External Links and Resources

All About Birds from Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Northern Shoveler

Detailed article about the Northern Shoveler. Range, habitat, similar species, diet, feeding habits, and more.

BirdWeb: Northern Shoveler

Good article from the state of Washington Seattle Audubon about Northern Shovelers. Lots of detail.

Boreal Songbird Initiative: Northern Shoveler

Canadian site with a great article on the Northern Shoveler. Large sections on feeding techniques, breeding, migration, and conservation.

US Geological Survey: Northern Shoveler

Short, but good article about the Northern Shoveler.

More Photos

Northern Shoveler Pair

Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Donna Dewhurst, Photographer)

Northern Shovelers going for a stroll.

Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Donna Dewhurst, Photographer)


Good video of a Northern Shoveler cooperative feeding technique.

The Internet Bird Collecton: Northern Shovelers

Videos of Northern Shovelers.

Places to see Ducks

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Central Park in Huntington Beach

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

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saskpics said...

hey, i'm so jealous of your shoveler pictures! I saw 4 yesterday but the lake they were on is still pretty frozen so they were quite far away. Great job on the pics!

Orange County Birder Girl said...

Thank you for the compliment. Always glad to have visitors from up North. Your pictures are very good as well, by the way. Being in Southern California, we never see much frozen unless we go to the mountains. The main way we see seasons change is by the slight shift in weather, the wildflowers and flowering garden plants, and the changes in the birds. Although I love our weather, four seasons must be nice. Thanks for visiting.