Dabblers

Reminder:  You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full-screen image.

The other day I did a post about Ruddy Ducks and I mentioned that freshwater ducks generally are classified as divers or dabblers, with Ruddys being divers.  Tonight’s post is about the quintessential dabbler, the Northern Shoveler.  Northern Shovelers are among the most frequently seen species of duck in southern Arizona this time of year.  They spend their summers in the northern plains and in the Pacific Northwest with their range extending all the way up through Alaska.  They usually come down here in great numbers in the winter.

Northern Shovelers are instantly recognizable from their gigantic beaks.  These birds have evolved to live a little bit like baleen whales, straining plankton and other small aquatic life in their beaks.  Like all dabblers they feed on the surface, occasionally submerging the upper parts of their bodies, but never diving after food.

Here’s a male Shoveler.

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It is an extraordinarily colorful duck.  This male, however, has not quite molted into his full breeding plumage.  In a few weeks his breast will turn pure white and his head a brilliant, iridescent green.  Here’s another male, further along in developing his breeding plumage, with his girlfriend.

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Female Shovelers share the males’ immense beaks but are a nondescript buff color.

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Like nearly all ducks, Shovelers seem to enjoy displaying themselves through vigorous wing flapping and splashing.  They do this as part of their grooming ritual but I suspect that it may have other purposes, such as to intimidate rivals or to attract mates.

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Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, ISO 400, aperture preferred setting, exposures varied.

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