by Joan Smedinghoff
February 09, 2018
A male northern shoveler walks across ice at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Md. Nicknamed the spoonbill, the northern shoveler is a medium-sized dabbling duck with a distinctive shovel- or spoon-shaped bill.
This duck is sometimes confused with the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). Both males have an iridescent green head and the females are mottled buff and brown in coloring, but the northern shoveler’s elongated bill makes it easy to distinguish.
The shoveler’s bill can be more than two inches in length and is equipped with a row of bristles it uses to filter food from the water. They forage for crustaceans, mollusks, minnows, insects, seeds and aquatic plants in shallow waters. Looking a bit like aquatic vacuums, shovelers zoom along with their heads lowered as they push water and mud through their closed bill's filtering bristles.
This duck can be found in late fall and winter in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia on the Bay’s eastern shore, and occasionally in the upper Potomac River near Washington, D.C.
Watch a video to see how the northern shoveler (Anas clypeata) feeds in our Field Guide.