The past few winters, some new visitors have begun showing up on our backyard lake. A casual observer might have seen the green head and just dismissed it as another mallard, but at second glance, it was easy to see this was no ordinary duck. The large heavy bill made it extremely easy to identify our new winter residents – they’re Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata).
Northern Shovelers are actually pretty common birds, and can be found across much of the U.S. and Canada at some point during the year. They winter down south, then migrate to the northwest for breeding season. They’re not restricted to North America, though; this species is also found in Europe, Africa, and Asia. (See a worldwide range map here.) They are monogamous, and like most duck species, females are drabber in color than males, though they still have that distinctive bill.
Shovelers are dabbling ducks, which means they don’t completely submerge underwater for feeding. Because their bills are so long and heavy, they don’t even need to tip their body down into the water – they can just lower their bill and use it to filter out their food, mainly small water creatures. They have more than 100 small projections, called lamellae, along the edge of the bill to help with this process.