Sunday, April 17, 2011

The goofy, serious Northern Shoveler

The dabbling ducks. When I hear that name I think not so much of a type of bird but of a bunch of ducks just hanging out, dabbling at whatever takes their fancy -- watercolor painting, the local amateur theatrical society, playing the fiddle.

Northern Shovelers, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico.

Of course they are busy all day long doing dabbling of a much more serious kind: puddling about looking for food. As the last ray of light was fading here at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico, these Northern Shovelers had a true urgency about them; you could feel it. The weather was especially cold this February, so no doubt they needed every calorie they could get. And there was a storm rolling in.

Snow was on the way, and bitter, cold winds.

Actually, this guy looks kind of irritated with me for taking his attention, doesn't he? This lasted for all of a second, and then he was back to his job, as though I wasn't there at all.

That yellow eye is kind of glaring at me.

This is the view I'm most accustomed to seeing of any dabbling duck, a.k.a. the headless duck:

Headless Northern Shovelers.

But Bosque del Apache is a magical kind of place, a birder's fantasy, where you can see birds relatively close and at your leisure. Being able to sit and get a good look at these Shovelers as they got up out of the water onto the ice, it suddenly struck me just how odd looking these ducks are. They are like bills on legs.

There is something especially cute about a creature that is so serious and businesslike yet looks so fantastical. And what they do with their bill makes them seem all the more fantastical -- half bird, half whale. As they scoot along through the water, the fringed edge of that bill, like a comb with more than 100 teeth, filters the water so they can harvest tiny invertebrates. (This photographer captured a shot of the lamellae, those projections on the bill.)

The poor dull-looking female Northern Shovelers -- when I got home I realized I had taken hardly any photos of them. But a female Northern Shoveler is an awesome creature: When a predator comes to her nest, she poops on her eggs to make them unappealing. Hah, take that!

Female Northern Shoveler - less spectacular with her brown eyes and plumage, but awesome nonetheless.


  1. Great post and I love the Northern Shovelers. I think they are cute ducks.

  2. Thanks! They are really just adorable; I could watch them all day.

  3. That's one heck of an amazing post!
    I've only seen Shovelers fly overhead. Never this close. They DO look kind of strange :)
    I didn't know the teeth and poop part either.
    Thanks a million for enlightening my day!
    (And for the lovely photos of a part of the world don't know :))

  4. Excellent post on the Northern Shoveler Vanessa! I had no idea that the females were so clever ;-)

    I do think that female ducks need more attention though. We always seem to concentrate on the males because of their more varied plumage but the females plumages are also very beautiful in their own right. They're just sometimes more difficult to identify.

    Don't forget, when you post on Bird Photography Weekly to add your post to "Mr. Linky" (in green type) found just below the first BFW badge. I almost missed your post!

  5. Thanks for the heads-up about the link, Larry. And there are too many ducks that I can't hope to identify if I see only the female -- shame on me!

  6. LOL. Loved reading your post. Bills on legs :))