Shoveler Video Transcript
The Shoveler, or Blue Wing, is found across eastern and southern Australia, but it's never been a very common bird. The first thing you notice about a Shoveler is the large bill. This slopes straight from the top of the head to form a wedge-shaped profile.
Male birds have a blue head and a white crescent in front of the eye. The female Shoveler is much plainer than the male but has the same very distinctive bill. The upperwing of the female is brown, except for some pale blue feathers on the shoulder. On the male, these blue feathers are much brighter and there is a white wing patch much like that of Teal.
The male Shoveler is the only native Australian duck with orange legs. Male and female Shovelers have similar amounts of white under the wings, but the body colour is different. This is a male. And this is a female. She has a similar white underwing but much duller body plumage.
In flight, the wedge-shaped profile of the head is obvious. So are the wing patterns and the orange legs of the males. From underneath, the bill has a square-ended appearance. On this male Shoveler, you can see the orange legs and white underwing as well as the white crescent in front of the eye. The male's chestnut body and orange legs are easy to see. But its massive bill and low sloping head are the most obvious features.
On this non-breeding male, the head is grey, but in mature breeding males the head is a fairly bright blue colour. Look at the head profiles of this pair. The male is on the right. The female, behind the Pink Ear, has much duller, paler plumage and no orange legs. You could mistake the white feathers on the flank of this male Shoveler for those on a Hardhead or Chestnut Teal, but the Shoveler's head profile is a real giveaway.
Shovelers often mix with other birds and prefer well-vegetated freshwater swamps. In the air, male and female Shovelers show a large, white underwing. The males also have a white patch in the centre of the upperwing. The blue wing feathers are difficult to see, so you shouldn't rely on them for identification. The white wing patches are easily visible in good light. This makes them look a bit like Teal, but the head profile and more pointed wings give them away at once. The large, white underwing patches are obvious and tell us that they're not Teal.
In the air, they look darker than most other waterfowl. Watch for the orange legs as these male Shovelers pitch down. In a mixed flock, Shovelers might be hard to pick out and female Shovelers can look a bit like Freckled Duck. Look for the head profile, orange legs, white underwing. The dark body contrasts with the white underwing and the small upperwing patches show up in most light conditions.
At the moment, Shovelers are not legal game in all states, so check with your local wildlife officers. The heavy bill of the Shoveler is similar to that of another species, the Pink-eared Duck. The Pink Ear is the next species we'll look at.