Shoveler

Anas clypeata

44-52cm

Appearance

This is a smaller bird than the Mallard. Its head is flatter and it has a characteristic long, broad bill. The sexes have very different colouring; the male's neck and breast is white, he has a shiny, deep-green head and chestnut flanks and belly. There's a white patch with a clear division into a black section below his tail. He has a beady, yellow eye, the stern is black and white and his bill is darker than the female's. Long black, blue and white feathers sit amongst his dark back. The female's appearance has much in common with that of the female Mallard. Her plumage is a spotted, buff-brown and her bill is yellow-tinged. She has white underwings and a dark belly. While flying, powder-blue can be seen on the wings of both sexes, though the male's blue is brighter, the female's tending towards grey. Juveniles look like adult females; young males only gradually grow their coloured plumage.

Habitat

Builds nests in profuse vegetation proximate to shallow freshwater; marshes or lowland wet grassland are its preferred environments. It can be found in winter on inland marshes, small lakes and pools, and around the edges of reservoirs.

Character

When this bird up-ends, the tips of its long wings cross over. It swims with its breast low in the water and its large bill is very close to the surface. It moves softly in the shallows and sometimes a group might swim in a line or circle formation.

Food

The Shoveler filters water through serrations along the edges of its bill. It also up-ends and occasionally dives for food. It eats seeds and the leaves of water plants, and tiny creatures including crustaceans, water snails, and insects and their larvae.

Breeding

Nests are grounded and built close to water, and the bird creates a small territory which is defended dutifully during first stages of nesting. Female lays 9-11 eggs from April, then incubates for about 22 days. Male leaves his mate while she incubates, then the female tends to ducklings until they're independent (40-45 days).

Population

These birds are migratory birds; 1000 pairs breed in the UK and fewer than 100 in Ireland. Most British and Irish breeding birds leave by October and fly to western Europe, while others make it to North Africa. Birds from Iceland, northern Europe and Russia spend winter in western Europe and Britain. Birds gradually return to their territories between February and May. In winter there may be more than 18 000 individuals in the UK and 2 500 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

The long, flattened bill of this bird makes it unmistakable. Not difficult to find on wetland reserves during winter months, but a bird that's most often observed from a distance – they're very discreet when breeding.

Voice

Generally quiet birds. The male has a 'tuk, tuk' call, particularly as competing males chase each other. Female makes a gentle quacking sound.
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