1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Shoveler

Shoveler, formerly spelt Shoverlar, and more anciently Shovelard, a word by which used to be meant the bird now almost invariably called Spoonbill (q.v.), but in the latter half of the 16th century transferred to one hitherto generally, and in these days locally, known as the Spoon-billed Duck—the Anas clypeata of Linnaeus and Rhynchaspis or Spatula clypeata of modern writers. All these names refer to the shape of the bird’s bill, which, combined with the remarkably long lamellae that beset both maxilla and mandible, has been thought sufficient to remove the species from the Linnaean genus Anas. Except for the extraordinary formation of this feature, which carries with it a clumsy look, the male Shoveler would pass for one of the most beautiful of this generally beautiful group of birds. As it is, for bright and variegated colouring, there are few of his kindred to whom he is inferior. His golden eye, his dark green head, surmounting a breast of pure white and succeeded by underparts and flanks of rich bay, are conspicuous; while his deep brown back, white scapulas, lesser wing-coverts (often miscalled shoulders) of a glaucous blue, and glossy green speculum bordered with white present a wonderful contrast of the richest tints, heightened again by his bright orange feet. On the other hand, the female, excepting the blue wing-coverts she has in common with her mate, is habited very like the ordinary Wild-Duck, A. boscas. The Shoveler is not an abundant species, and in Great Britain its distribution is local; but its numbers have remarkably increased since the passing of the Wild-Fowl Protection Act in 1876, so that in certain districts it has regained its old position as an indigenous member of the Fauna. It has not ordinarily a very high northern range, but inhabits the greater part of Europe, Asia and America, passing southwards, like most of the Anatidae towards winter, constantly reaching India, Ceylon, Abyssinia, the Antilles and Central America, while it is known to have occurred at that season in Colombia, and, according to Gould, in Australia. Generally resembling in its habits the other freshwater ducks, the Shoveler has one peculiarity that has been rarely, if ever, mentioned, and one that is perhaps correlated with the structure of its bill. It seems to be especially given to feeding on the surface of the water immediately above the spot where diving ducks (Fuligulinae) are employing themselves beneath. On such occasions a pair of Shovelers may be watched, almost for the hour together, swimming in a circle, about a yard in diameter, their heads turned inwards towards its centre, their bills immersed vertically in the water, and engaged in sifting, by means of the long lamellae before mentioned, the floating matters that are disturbed by their submerged allies and rise to the top. These gyrations are executed with the greatest ease, each Shoveler of the pair merely using the outer leg to impel it on its circular course.

Four other species of the genus Spatula, all possessing the characteristic light blue “shoulders,” have been described: one, S. platalea, from the southern parts of South America, having the head, neck and upper back of a pale reddish brown, freckled or closely spotted with dark brown, and a dull bay breast with interrupted bars; a second, S. capensis, from South Africa, much lighter in colour than the female of S. clypeata; a third and a fourth, S. rhynchotis and S. variegate, from Australia and New Zealand respectively-these last much darker in general coloration, and the males possessing a white crescentic mark between the bill and the eye, very like that which is found in the South-American Bluewinged Teal (Querquedula cyanoptera), but so much resembling each other that their specific distinctness has been disputed by good authority. (A. N.)