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An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, the Northern Shoveler

Mar 15, 2017 09:20PM ● By Paul Spear

Visiting at the Estuary now is An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the Northern Shoveler

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Northern Shoveler  (Anas clypeata). This species is unmistakable in the northern hemisphere due to its large spatulate bill. The breeding drake has an iridescent dark green head, white breast, and chestnut belly and flanks. In flight,

pale blue forewing feathers are revealed, separated from the green speculum by a white border. In early fall the male will have a white crescent on each side of the face. In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake resembles the female. The female is a drab mottled brown like other dabblers with plumage much like a female mallard, but easily distinguished by the long broad bill, which is gray tinged with orange on cutting edge and lower mandible. The female's forewing is gray.

Many of the dabbling ducks use their flat bills to strain food items from the water, but the big spatulate bill of the Northern Shoveler is adapted to take this habit to the extreme. Flocks of shovelers often swim along with their big bills barely submerged in front of them, straining food from the muddy soup of shallow waters. Despite their heavy-set build, shovelers are good fliers; at large gatherings, groups often are seen taking off, circling the area repeatedly, then alighting again.

Habitat is in marshes, ponds; and in winter, also on salt bays. In summer they can be seen in open country such as prairies, marshes, or tundras, in the vicinity of shallow water. In migration and winter they are found on alkaline lakes, fresh marshes, tidal estuaries, or any shallow waters with extensive muddy margins, including stagnant or polluted waters not much favored by other ducks.

Northern Shovelers forage mainly by swimming slowly forward with the bill skimming the surface or with the head partly submerged, often swinging the bill from side to side as it sifts food from the muddy water. They seldom up-end, rarely dive, and seldom feed on land. Diet varies with the season and habitat. In winter they may feed mostly on seeds and other parts of aquatic plants, such as sedges, pondweeds, grasses, and others. Also, especially in summer, they eat mollusks, insects, crustaceans, and sometimes small fish.

Pair formation begins in winter and continues during spring migration. Several males may court one female, gathering around her on water. Each male in turn attempts to lead a female away, by swimming away or by short flight. A female indicates acceptance by flying away with the male. Males remain with females longer than in most ducks, often through part of incubation period. Nest sites are usually close to water, generally in an area of short grass. Nests, built by females, are a shallow depression partly filled with dried grasses and weeds, and lined with down.

After mating, females lay 9-12, sometimes 6-14 eggs, which are shades of pale olive. If the first clutch of eggs is destroyed, a replacement clutch usually has fewer eggs. Incubation is by females only, in about 21-27 days. Within a few hours after eggs hatch, females lead young to water, generally keeping them close to cover of marsh vegetation. Young are capable of flight in about 52-60 days after hatching.

Look for these “big billed” dabbling ducks in our own Tijuana Estuary. They can be found there during winter months swimming in the ponds there. Until next week, happy birding!


If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link:

Bryan Brillhart Photography or Bird of the Week

Bryan Brillhart. Senior Photographer, Dig Imperial Beach


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