Northern Shoveler – Just Because I Like It

Northern Shovelers don’t get a lot of attention from photographers and I’ve been guilty of ignoring them myself. But I think the colors of the male in breeding plumage are beautiful if you can get past that silly looking spatulate bill.


1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Yesterday I was photographing birds on a local (partially frozen) pond when one female and three male shovelers came from out of nowhere and swam by directly in front of me. They were swimming in single file and I wanted still water in the photos so I trained my lens on the male in the lead and fired away. Because they were so close the duck was a little tight in all of the images but I still like the way they turned out.

In particular I enjoy the good detail, the interesting colors of the bird and that double whirly-swirly reflection below the tail. It isn’t a spectacular shot of course but for me it’s a peaceful, pleasing image. And I was happy to get it because our ongoing inversion and resulting gunky air have severely limited my photography for many weeks now.



1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I’m including this mostly butt-shot photo, taken perhaps 30 seconds later as the shovelers approached the edge of the ice, just to document them as a group (the bird in the first image is the male on the right – the “leader of the pack”). And to illustrate how his iridescent head color has turned from green to purple at a different light angle.

I’m very, very quickly tiring of winter. There are birds around, raptors especially, but it’s a waste of time, gas and money to drive to a location, photograph them in deplorable light, and then delete them all when I get home. Our inversions clear out once the snow is gone so…

bring on the spring!


PS – I shouldn’t bad-mouth the snow and cold too much because we have the first good snowpack in the mountains we’ve had for years and that bodes well for spring runoff and the disappearing Great Salt Lake. And for birds.

Addendum: I’m adding this photo in response to a question from Dick Harlow in a comment below. He asked if I had any photos of these ducks that show the spatulate shape of the bill better. This is the best I have at doing that (on the male on the left). I’m surprised I don’t have any images that show it better than this…



31 comments to Northern Shoveler – Just Because I Like It

  • Jean Haley

    Fantastic shot. Really shows the beauty of the bird. I have always found Shoveler’s interesting. The first time I saw one, I wondered “what happened to that Mallard” lol That’s when I found out what the bird is a Shoveler.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I remember seeing an inversion, like you describe, over the city of Piitsburg…we drove down the hill, we saw only a huge, gray cloud,but then, suddenly, we were in a city! The paint on many of the buildings and houses was peeling off…because of the polluted air!??? The rate of asthma and emphasyma must be very high in SLC…like living in an aquarium with a lid that traps all pollutants…sad!!!

    • It’s simply awful here when we have inversions, Patty. Some winters we don’t have them much but that’s usually because there’s no snow in the valley.

  • Susan Stone

    I’m with Laura – love the butt shot! Northern Shovelers have fascinated me since I saw my first one in 1992. I’ve always wondered how they stay upright with that outsize beak, but I think your first photo answered that question – holding the head way back. Thanks for helping me with that long-standing question! On the subject of inversion and spring, we get the inversion here in the afternoons, most of it being from Ciudad Juarez where they burn tires for heat. But this week we are definitely getting spring-like weather, with temps in the 70s. Amazing, since we just drove home from the park last Friday through snow flurries…

    • Hot-damn, I think you just may be onto something there about their head and neck posture, Susan. Never thought of that possibility…

    • Pam Skaar

      I never noticed that about the way they hold their heads. Thanks. That could be a great silhouette field mark, apparent at a further distance than the beak size itself.

  • Marty K

    This is a very enjoyable series. I appreciate the time and expense you put into giving us beautiful images and education through your blog.

    I find it interesting that there are multiple males and a single female hanging out peacefully. As a biology teacher, I would have assumed the other way around. As a gal, however, I approve of this ratio! 😉

    • “As a gal, however, I approve of this ratio!”

      Thanks for that laugh, Marty. I’m thinking your bio classes would be both fun and educational – the perfect combination.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Both bird and water are beautiful in the first shot…especially the iridescence and the reflection. Love the choreography of the males in the “butt shot”…i noticed that the males are all looking the same way , but the female,as usual, sees things differently…nice reflections in the third, too

  • Laura Culley

    My favorite is the butt shot. That one just speaks to me for some strange reason. Don’t get me wrong, all are terrific. It’s just that one made me giggle, and since I came home from the Arizona meet with an ugly cold, giggles are few and far between this morning! THANK YOU! And thank you also for educating me on duck species. You ROCK!

  • Marina schultz

    I love shovelers and don’t think they are boring at all …. maybe because there are so few here we actually have more wood ducks than shovelers ….. love they’re beaks!! It’s what makes them stand out ! Can you explain what is wrong with your air that you haven’t been able to photograph … I don’t understand??? I go out almost every day no matter what the weather I have more problems on bright sunny days with blue skies

    • Marina, We sit in a huge valley that traps cold air down here when there’s snow on the ground with warmer air above. When the winds are calm it only takes a day or two for all the industrial pollution and vehicle emissions to be trapped in this relatively thin layer of cold air at the valley bottom. It can be almost 20 degrees warmer and clear as a bell in the mountains at places like Park City when we’re freezing in polluted air down here.

      When that happens the light is so poor in the valley that it’s a complete waste of time to try to get quality images. If the layer is thin enough we sometimes get acceptable light when the sun is high in the sky and it doesn’t have to filter through quite as much gunk. Such was the case yesterday when I took these shoveler photos.

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful! They are beautiful ducks even with the weird bill. 🙂 The group photo is great even if all butts! One does wonder what they think of us at times. 🙂

  • Dick Harlow

    Great first image Ron! Do you have any that are face on to show the depth and width of the spatulate bill? That is quite a sight in itself.
    Today was our first decent early morning for light in some time, BUT had other obligations, so I understand your frustration. Plus our birds have been few in variety, more plentifull for a few local birds. However, I refuse to just take feeder pictures unless for documentation.

  • Pam Skaar

    I like these ducks. Thanks for taking the time and effort to photograph them. I even like to watch the way they sweep gunky water/mud with that spatulate bill. The blue panels in their wings are pretty when they fly, too.

  • Sharon Constant

    I love Northern Shovelers. I love their silly bills. I marvel at how small they are compared to other ducks like pintails. Somehow, that giant bill makes me think they are much larger than they really are. Your posts help me to step back from all the craziness going on in our country right now. Thank you!

  • Porcupine

    “Silly looking spatulate bill”? You should hear what he said about you! I love the group shot Ron. The boss is obviously checking you out to make sure you dont try anything with his lady.

    • “You should hear what he said about you”

      Ha, you’re probably right, Porcupine. Something like “Hey, check out the big ears on that guy behind the huge lens”!

  • Charlotte Norton

    Beautiful shots Ron!