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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Jun 19, 2010

Northern Shoveler

Of all the birds I expected to see in this city, the Northern Shoveler was not one of them, even though they are apparently quite common throughout western Canada.  When I first saw this bird I recognized that something was different, but I made the assumption that he was just a larger Mallard Duck.   However, having learned to heed the sense that something is different about a bird, and in this way make the most of a possibility, I took the first picture anyway and was nicely rewarded as you will see.

Northern Shoveler male

This bird is a handsome fellow despite his large bill.  When I first spotted him he was coming towards me across  the pond, facing me head on, so it wasn't difficult to mistake him for a Mallard, especially since I was only half paying attention.  It wasn't until he turned sideways and was closer to me that I realized I really did have a different species of duck in sight, one I had never encountered before.  Naturally I got excited and took lots of pictures, which I couldn't wait to view on my computer in order to identify this bird.

Northern shoveler close

As you can see below, his head is the same blue green color as that of a male Mallard, and he has the same white stripe on the tail, but that is where the similarities end.  He has a patch of chestnut color on his sides and belly that is lacking in the Mallard duck and stripes of white on his otherwise black back.  He also has a powder blue patch between the striping and the chestnut patch, and his bill is rather large, flat and black instead of yellow, and shaped much like a shovel.  I have since learned that his bill is specialized with comb like edges.

Northern Shoveler and Male Mallards

He uses this bill to strain the water for the aquatic plants and animals which sustain him, by keeping it partly  submerged and swinging his head from side to side as he swims along. This duck is rarely seen grazing on shore, unlike a Mallard Duck, although they do consume grass.  During the non-breeding season the Norther Shoveler has the same dull coloring as the female of his species, and in the fall he carries a white crescent marking on each of his cheeks.  It was interesting to learn that this bird goes through a moult about a month prior to the breeding season, during which time he is completely flightless.  The female of this species can easily be mistaken as a Mallard Duck, her bill is olive green rather than black, and her moult takes place about a month following that of the male.

Northern Shoveler taking bath
The Northern Shoveler's preferred habitat is fresh water wetlands, surrounded by dense reeds and free of closely surrounding, or overhanging trees.  They will also frequent well vegetated lakes, swamps, and rivers with muddy shores, as well as artificial lakes and ponds bordered by lush grassland or reeds.  This helped explain why this Northern Shoveler might have decided to visit this particular pond, as it is surrounded by reeds and rushes, as well as grass, while the trees are situated well away from the water's edge.

Beating wings
Northern Shoveler exercising wings

While I didn't get to see him fly, the Northern Shoveler did beat his wings for me, sort of showing me a bird like version of a human stretch to relax.  This showed me quite clearly the beautiful markings on his wings.  It is just unfortunate that I have only seen this bird the one time.  Perhaps he didn't like the human presence at the pond.  More likely however, his food requirements were simply not present within the pond, which is too bad really, as I'm sure other people would have enjoyed seeing him there.

If you wish to learn more about this bird just follow these links:


If you would like to know where you can go in Alberta to find this bird the links below will tell you:

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