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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

The shoveler consists of four species of ducks known as dabbling ducks, which are recognized by their long, broad, flat beaks. Their legs are closer together than other ducks. They are good walkers and strong fliers. They feed on vegetable matter on the surface of water bodies, or by grazing, and rarely dive, thus the name dabbling duck. The four species of shoveler are the northern shoveler, the red shoveler, the Cape shoveler, and the Australasian shoveler. This article looks at the northern shoveler.

The northern shoveler, or Anas clypeata, can be found in most of North America and the northern parts of Europe and Asia. On occasions, it finds its way to Australia. It is a migratory bird, moving northwards to breed. Slightly less sociable than most dabbling ducks, it lives in small flocks in the non-breeding season. The species is recognizable by its very long bill which is wider at the tip than at the base. The bill always tilts downward, even in flight. It is a medium sized duck, about 17 to 20 inches long and weighing between one and two pounds.

Males and females can be quite easily distinguished at breeding time. The male has an iridescent green head, black bill, white chest and rusty colored sides. When it flies, its blue forewing feathers can be seen along with green inner wing feathers, the two colors separated by a white band. The female in less brilliantly colored, mainly being pale brown with gray forewings. Overall, her coloring is similar to the female mallard. At non-breeding time, the male’s plumage is more similar to the female’s in appearance.

They prefer the open wetlands, including marshes and wet grassland. It dabbles in the water for plant food, swinging and shaking its bill. The northern shoveler’s bill has more than 100 fine projections, or lamellae, along its edges which strain water from food. It will also eat mollusks and insects during the breeding season. These ducks make a nest of plant material on the ground in a shallow depression close to water. They line it with down. The birds are monogamous and mate for longer than other dabbling duck species. If the female is threatened, it will defecate on the eggs, probably as a deterrent to predators. Its conservation status is “least concern”.

The northern shoveler is generally quiet. Males and females can be told apart by their sound. The male makes a clunking call. During courtship, it gives a nasal bray. The female can make various quacking noises and sounds like a mallard. It also produces a rattling noise when it takes off, which is unique among dabbling ducks.