I am calling 2019 “The Year of the Shoveler”. No matter where Leonard and I have observed waterfowl this year, northern shovelers (Spatula clypeata) seem be present in larger numbers than we ever remember seeing before. These shovelers were photographed in the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuges in Northern California. Shovelers often congregate in social groups with other shovelers or other dabbling ducks.
In the Americas, northern shovelers winter in Pacific and southern states, moving to north central United States and Canada and into Alaska during the breeding season. A holoarctic species, shovelers also breed in Europe and winter in southern Europe, Africa and India.
The male northern shoveler is distinctive with his white chest, rusty sides, green head and bright golden eye. Females have mottled brown plumage. These dabbling ducks are easily identified by their spoon-shaped bills. The male has a black bill while the female shoveler’s bill is orange with some black. The edges of the shoveler bill have comb-like projections (lamellae) along the edges. The lamellae are used to filter out the seeds, crustaceans and other invertebrates that comprise the northern shoveler’s diet. They forage with their head down in the water. Sometimes northern shovelers work together to bring food to the surface by swimming rapidly in circles while swinging their bills from side to side.
Northern shovelers are monogamous, choosing mates on wintering grounds and remaining together until fall. Their nest is a small depression in the ground in short vegetation near water. The nest is lined with dry vegetation and downy feathers. There are between 6 and 14 pale olive eggs in a clutch.
A synonym for S clypeata is Anas clypeata.