Birds - Shoveler
( Originally Published 1904 )
Called also : SPOONBILL; BROADBILL
Length—18 to 20 inches.
Male—Head and neck dusky, glossy bluish green; back brown, paler on the edges of the feathers, and black on lower back and tail; patches on sides of base of tail, lower neck, upper breast, and some wing feathers white; lower breast and underneath reddish chestnut; shoulders grayish blue; wing patch green. Bill longer than head, twice as wide at end as at base, and rounded over like a spoon; teeth at the sides in long, slender plates. Tail short, consisting of fourteen sharply pointed feathers. Feet small and red.
Female—Smaller, darker, and duller than male. Head and neck streaked with buff, brown, and black; throat yellowish white; back dark olive brown, the feathers lighter on the edges; underparts yellowish brown indistinctly barred with dusky; wings much like male's, only less vivid. Immature birds have plumage intermediate between their parents'; their shoulders are slaty gray and the wing patch shows little or no green.
Range—" Northern hemisphere; in America more common in the interior; breeds regularly from Minnesota northward and locally as far south as Texas; not known to breed in the Atlantic States; winters from southern Illinois and Virginia southward to northern South America." (Chapman.)
Season—Winter visitor in the south; spring and autumn migrant north of Washington; more abundant in autumn migrations in the east.
However variable the plumage of this duck may be in the sexes and at different seasons, its strangely shaped bill at once identifies it, no other representatives of the spoonbill genus of ducks having found their way to North American waters. Apparently the shoveler is guided by touch rather than sight, as it pokes about on the muddy shores of ponds or tips up to probe in the shallow waters for the small shellfish, insects, roots of aquatic plants, and small fish it feeds on. It is not a strict vegetarian, however delicate and delicious its flesh may be at the proper season. There are many sportsmen who would not pass a shoveler to shoot a canvasback.
North of the United States, where these ducks chiefly have their summer home, we hear of the jaunty, parti-colored drake, gayly decked out for the nesting season, when he is truly beautiful to behold, and charmingly attentive to his more sombre mate. By the time the autumn migration has brought them over our borders, however, he has cast off many of his fine feathers, together with his gallant manners, and closely resembles the duck in all but character. He is ever a selfish idler, while she attends to all the drudgery of making the nest in the marshy border of the lake; of incubating from six to fourteen pale greenish buff eggs during four weeks of the closest confinement; of caring for the large brood and teaching the ducklings all the family arts.
Shovelers are expert swimmers and divers, though they "tip up" rather than dive for food; they are good walkers also, when we see them in the corn fields, and almost as swift on the wing as a teal. Took, took; took, took, that answers as a love song and the expression of whatever passing emotion the ordinarily silent birds may voice, was likened by Nuttall to " a rattle, turned by small jerks in the hand."
Like most other ducks of this subfamily, the shoveler is not common in the northern Atlantic states. Salt water never attracts it; but, on the contrary, it rejoices in lakes, sluggish rivers and streams, isolated grass-grown ponds, and even puddles made by the rain. In the sloughs and lagoons of the lower Mississippi Valley it is still fairly common all winter, however much it is persecuted by the gunners.
"These birds migrate across the country to the western plains where they nest," says Chamberlain, "from North Dakota and Manitoba northward, ranging as far as Alaska." In such remote places, where the hand of the law rarely reaches the nefarious pot hunter, he happily finds the ducks in the very prime of toughness.