Discover Nature: Northern Shoveler

Mar 1, 2017

Ducks and geese migrate north through Missouri as weather here warms and the season leans toward spring. Watch for Northern shovelers joining the northward flight this week.

Northern shovelers migrate north through Missouri this time of year. Look for their distinct spatula-like bills, outfitted with comb-like bristles that serve to sift food from muddy water.
Credit Missouri Department of Conservation

These dabbling ducks have distinct, long, heavy-looking bills edged with comb-like bristles which function as a sieve to strain food from muddy water.

Watch for them in marshes, ponds, and lakes with emergent vegetation as they forage in shallow water – feeding on clams, leeches, snails and worms.

Like other dabblers, they rarely dive completely under the water, and can take flight by jumping directly out of the water.

Male breeding plumage consists of a green head, black bill, and yellow eyes, with chestnut sides. Post-breeding, male feathers are dull brown. Females are generally grayish-brown and have gray bills edged in orange.

In flight, both sexes show a blue forewing patch in front of a green speculum, separated by white.

Learn more about Northern shovelers, and find places near you to watch them in the wild, with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.