From a distance the northern shoveler looks like a mallard with a big nose. It’s this bird’s large, shovel-like bill that earned it its name. The male has a solid dark green head, large black bill, white chest, and rusty sides. The female is plain light brown overall with a large orange and gray bill. In flight, the male shoveler’s huge light blue wing shoulder patch is obvious.
Males give a hollow-sounding took-took, uttered in pairs.
At a distance, the best field mark for the shoveler is the huge rusty flank (side) patch surrounded by white.
Shovelers prefer shallow water, such as ponds and marshes, where they swim with their huge bills submerged as they strain food from the muddy water. During migration, they can be found on almost any body of water.
Imagine having to strain all of your food out of muddy water. The shoveler’s bill is a huge filter with specially adapted comblike teeth that strain out tiny organisms—delicious!