Northern Shoveler

northern shoveler drake looking over shoulder

This week I haven’t processed any images that have inspired me enough to post. But feeling a need to post something today, I selected this image of a Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) that was hanging out with a flock of mallards near shore in the bird sanctuary. Generally very shy, I was surprised that this drake allowed me to approach so close to him while he was primping, but he finally turned and looked at me with apparent exasperation, so I quickly captured this image and gave him a little more space.

At a casual glance, shovelers can easily be mistaken for mallards but can be distinguished from them by the large blue patch they display on their shoulder and their iridescent green speculum (a lustrous colored patch on the wing) as opposed to the absence of a shoulder patch and violet blue speculum of the mallard

This bird favors broad, shallow marshes where it can use the comb-like teeth along the edges of its large bill to strain aquatic animals, plants, and seeds from the water. They tend to forage on water bodies that provide seed from various plants including pondweed, bulrush, various grasses, sedges and algae. The remainder of its diet consists of mollusks, aquatic insects and zooplankton.

The unique bill morphology of Northern Shovelers allows this species to exhibit one of the most unusual feeding behaviors of any duck. Its large spoon shaped bill is adapted for sifting large amounts of muddy water. Their tongues are highly specialized with extensive comb-like teeth called lamellae, which help filter food items from the water. Moving its head side to side, water is drawn in at the tip of the bill, filtered through the lamellae to pick up any food particulate and then expelled at the base.

Socially, these dabbling ducks occasionally work together in groups while feeding, rotating like a ‘pin-wheel’, stirring up the surface water and skimming it for food particles. They also dabble through muddy bottoms in shallow ponds and will occasionally dive and feed underwater in deeper water bodies

During the breeding season, Northern Shovelers are widely distributed throughout central and western North America, Europe and Northern Asia. In the fall, Northern Shovelers migrate to the southern regions of North America, South America, North Africa and Southern Asia to over winter. Freshwater and saline marshes, industrial cooling ponds, agricultural wastewater ponds, coastal lagoons, estuaries and mangrove swamps provide wintering habitat.

Text drawn from


17 thoughts on “Northern Shoveler

    • Pretty much, altho his face was in shadow and I think I over-lightened his forehead, which tends usually to be dark, while the rest of the head is a gorgeous vibrant green just like a mallard drake.


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