The Shoveler Mating Game

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

Northern shovelers are common inhabitants of our local wetlands and marshes during the spring and summer, where they mate and nest. They’re gorgeous birds, the males being easily recognizable by their bright green head, yellow eyes, chestnut and white bodies, black back, and most prominently their long, broad bills. It’s these oversized bills that give them their name, and they are prominent on both males and females.

Shovelers are dabblers, and their bills have specialized serrations on the sides that they use to filter insects and seeds as they sweep through muddy marsh waters. It’s an effective strategy that allows them to compete for food along with other dabbling ducks and waterfowl in the same wetlands and shallow ponds.

This spring (2020) I was observing a very active group of male shovelers darting about and raising and lowering their heads in a rhythmic motion. It soon became obvious why–they were vying for the attention of a lone female in their midst. This went on for quite some time, and I’m not sure how it was finally resolved, but I suspect there was some nesting activities going a few weeks later. (Apologies for the shaky hand held video.)

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