The Creoles of Louisiana are well acquainted with this species, under the name of "Micoine," the etymology of which I am unable to trace. In that country it arrives, both from the westward and from the eastern inland districts, along with the Blue-winged Teal, or at the commencement of autumn. It associates with that species, to which, as well as to the Green-winged, the Mallard, the Dusky Duck, and the Gadwall, I should consider it very nearly allied, notwithstanding the peculiar expansion of its bill. The Shovellers remain in the lower parts of Louisiana during the whole of the winter, and depart along with the Blue-wings between the end of April and the middle of May. There, in early spring, they resort chiefly to ponds, where they feed on grasses and their seeds, as well as at times a small kind of onion, the bulbs of which they pull up from the moist grounds on their margins. This may perhaps to some seem strange, but I have long since made up my mind to learn from Nature, and believe what is, rather than what philosophers imagine ought to be. Having fed through the night, they collect towards dawn into large bands, and betake themselves to the margins of sand-bars on the Mississippi, where they spend the greater part of the day. At other times I have found them swimming or wading along the muddy margins of ponds and streams, immersing the head and part of the neck while alternately moving the bill to either side, in the manner of the Roseate Spoonbill, sifting as it were the contents of the soft mud or water, and ejecting the substances unfit for food. Repeated inspection of the stomach has shewn me that the Shoveller is not more nice as to the quality of its food than the Mallard or any other of the Duck tribe, for I have found in it leeches, small fishes, large ground-worms, and snails. They never however, I believe, feed by semi-immersion, like the Mallards and Teals; nor do they dive unless hard pressed, or when in a sportive mood, when they will dash for a moment beneath the surface.
This species is generally considered scarce in the United States, and I believe it is so, for, although many pass northward and breed in the Fur Countries, a greater number spend the summer months in Texas and the districts farther westward. It is however abundant on the streams of the Rocky Mountains, as well as on the tributaries of the Columbia river, where it was frequently observed by Mr. TOWNSEND, during summer.
We have no Ducks in the United States whose plumage is more changeable than that of the male of this beautiful species. While the female is sitting on her eggs, he undergoes a moult, after which he appears mottled, and seems as if inclined to assume the garb of his partner. From this period, the beginning of July, until late in November, very few finely-coloured males are to be seen, and only such as have not mated that season, in which case they do not moult until the beginning of winter, as if to be the sooner ready to associate with females on the approach of the next breeding season.
In the Carolinas, this species, though found during winter in the rice fields, is not abundant; more than three or four being seldom seen together. In our Central and Eastern Districts, they are rather rare, and a male in full dress is not to be obtained without difficulty, although I have seen some in the markets of New York and Philadelphia.
The Shoveller walks prettily, and I have often admired its movements in the puddles formed by heavy dashes of rain in our southern corn-fields, where I have found it in company with the Wood Duck, the Mallard, and the Pin-tail. Its flight resembles that of the Blue-winged Teal; and in tenderness as well as in flavour, it rivals, as an article of food, that beautiful bird. No sportsman who is a judge will ever pass a Shoveller to shoot a Canvass-back. It is rarely however found on salt water, and that only when compelled to resort thither.
In the beginning of May, when I was in Texas, I found Shovellers breeding inconsiderable numbers. The males had already left the females, and were seen on the sand-bars of the Bay of Galveston, up to the river St. Jacinto, but none of my party discovered the nest. During the autumn, they are to be seen on the waters adjoining the Ohio, and generally in ponds in company with the Bald-pate or American Widgeon, when they become very fat, and afford delicious eating. At this time I have been often much pleased when, on perceiving a flock of eight or nine of these Ducks, probably members of a single family, and cautiously approaching them, while they were busily engaged in searching for food with their heads and necks immersed, I have obtained several of them at the first shot, and as the survivors flew off have succeeded in procuring one or two more. On such occasions, they rise almost perpendicularly to the height of fifteen or twenty feet, and then fly off in a direct course, in the manner of Mallards.
SHOVELLER, Anas clypeata, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 45.
ANAS CLYPEATA, Bonap. Syn., p. 382.
ANAS CLYPEATA, Shoveller, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 439.
SHOVELLER, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 383.
SHOVELLER DucK, Anas clypeata, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 241.
Male, 20 1/2, 31 1/2. Female, 17, 29 1/2
Breeds abundantly in Texas, westward to the Columbia and Fur Countries. During winter from the Middle Atlantic Districts to Texas. Common.
Bill longer than the head, higher than broad at the base, depressed and much widened towards the end, where its breadth is doubled. Upper mandible with the dorsal line sloping and very slightly concave, the ridge at the base broad, narrowed over the nostrils; sides nearly erect at the base, gradually more declinate and convex; the tip very broadly rounded, with the unguis oblong, rather small, curved and rounded at the extremity; the margins soft, with very numerous lamellae, which are prolonged beyond the edges and taper to a point, unless at the commencement of the broadest part of the bill. Nasal groove elliptical, and filled by the soft membrane of the bill; nostrils elliptical, pervious, placed near the ridge. Lower mandible slightly curved upwards, with the angle very long and narrow, the unguis obovate.
Head of moderate size, oblong, compressed, rounded above; neck moderate; body rather full, slightly depressed. Feet short, stout, placed a little behind the centre of the body; legs bare a little above the joint; tarsus very short, moderately compressed, anteriorly with small scutella, and an external short series of larger, on the other parts reticulated with small scales. Hind toe very small, with a narrow free membrane; third toe longest, fourth almost as long; the three anterior slender, with numerous oblique scutella, and connected by webs which have the margin concave and denticulate; the inner toe with a broad margin. Claws small, arched, compressed, acute; that of middle toe slightly dilated on the inner edge.
Plumage dense, soft, and elastic; of the head and neck short, blended, and splendent; of the occiput and nape considerably elongated; of the other parts in general broad and rounded. Whigs of moderate length, acute; primaries narrow and tapering, the first longest, the second very little shorter; the secondaries broad, curved inwards; the inner elongated and tapering. Tail short, rounded, of fourteen acute feathers, of which the two middle extend five twelfths of an inch beyond the next.
Bill greyish-black, tinged with yellow. Iris reddish-orange. Feet vermilion; claws dusky. Head and upper part of neck, deep green, with purplish reflections, the top of the head of a darker tint with less vivid gloss. A longitudinal band on the hind neck and the back, greyish-brown, the feathers edged with paler; the rump and upper tail-coverts greenish black. The anterior scapulars white, the posterior elongated, light blue on the outer web, longitudinally banded with white and greenish-black on the inner. Smaller wing-coverts light blue; alula, primary coverts, and primary quills, blackish-brown, their shafts white. Outer secondaries greyish-brown, eight of them externally of a rich duck-green; the inner greenish-black, with a longitudinal white streak; the secondary coverts broadly tipped with white. Tail-feathers greyish-brown, irregularly variegated and margined with reddish-white, that colour enlarging on the outer feathers. Lower part of neck pure white; breast and middle part of abdomen dull purplish chestnut. A large patch of white on each side of the rump, with a band of the same towards the tail; lower tail-coverts greenish-black, with bright green and blue reflections; axillaries and lower wing-coverts pure white.
Length to end of tail 20 1/2 inches, to end of wings 19, to end of claws 21 1/4; extent of wings 31 1/2; bill along the ridge 2 8/12; wing from flexure 9 8/12; tail 2 10/12; tarsus 1 4/12; first toe and claw 8/12; third toe 1 9/12, its claw 5/12; fourth toe 1 9/12, its claw (3 1/2)/12. Weight 1 lb. 9 oz.
Bill dull yellowish-green, iris paler than in the male; feet as in the male, but lighter. The upper parts are blackish-brown, the feathers edged with light reddish-brown; the throat and sides of the head are light reddish-brown, which is the prevailing colour over the lower part of the neck, a portion of the breast and the sides, of which, however, the feathers are margined with dusky; the middle of the breast white. Smaller wing-coverts dull brownish-grey; alula and primaries as in the male; inner secondaries brownish-black; the speculum as in the male, but paler, and changing to blue; the secondary coverts tipped with white; tail nearly as in the male.
Length to end of tail 17 inches; to end of claws 20; bill along the ridge 2 1/12; extent of wings 29 1/2. Weight 1 lb. 1 oz.
The bill of a male measures 2 inches and 8 twelfths along the ridge, the frontal angles 4 twelfths more; the breadth of the upper mandible at the base is 8 1/2 twelfths, near the end 1 inch and 3 twelfths. The roof of the mouth is broadly and deeply concave, with a prominent median ridge, which becomes papillate towards the base; the edges of the mandible soft, direct, inflected towards the end; lamellae projecting beyond the margins and tapering to a point. On each side of the lower mandible are about 220 lamellae, and about 180 on the upper. The tongue is 2 3/4 inches long, deeply emarginate at the base, with numerous papillae, for half an inch narrow and compressed, then for an inch expanded, with a thin longitudinal flap above on each side divided into lamellae and minute bristles, at its anterior part having a breadth of 1 inch and terminating abruptly, but with a median thin semicircular tip, which is 3 twelfths long.
The oesophagus is 8 inches and 10 twelfths long, 4 1/2 twelfths in diameter, its walls thick. The proventriculus is oblong, 1 inch in length; its glandules of moderate size. The stomach is a strong gizzard of moderate size; the lateral muscles and their tendons large, as in all other Ducks. The intestine is very long, measuring 8 feet, and very narrow, its diameter being from 2 twelfths to 1 1/12 twelfths, for half its length, after which it enlarges to 3 1/2 twelfths at the distance of about 2 feet from the commencement of the rectum, then gradually diminishes to 2 twelfths. The rectum is 3 inches 2 twelfths long, the coeca 4 inches, their diameter for 1 1/4 inches 1 1/2 twelfths, afterwards 3 1/2 twelfths.
The trachea is 6 inches 9 twelfths long, very little flattened, its diameter at the upper part 2 1/2 twelfths, gradually enlarging to 4 twelfths. On the left side of the inferior larynx there is a rounded expansion of very moderate size compared with that observed in many other Ducks. The rings are 98; those at the lower part broader and much stronger, but all of them ossified. The bronchial half rings about 35.
In another individual, the stomach is 1 1/2 inches long, 1 5/12 broad; the right lateral muscle 6 twelfths thick. Contents, particles of quartz, and fragments of shells. Intestine 11 feet 6 inches long; coeca 6 1/4 inches long; rectum 3 1/2 inches.
Long intestines, like long bills, often exhibit great differences in the same species; for which reason characters taken from the length of these parts must be received with latitude. Even in the Rapacious Birds, in which the intestine is generally very short, considerable differences are observed in individuals of the same sex and size. It will be seen from the above statement that the Shoveller has a longer and more slender intestine than any other American Duck. In this respect it is analogous to Pandion and Haliaetus among the Raptores; generalizing vaguely from the consideration of which, as some have done, one might be apt to conclude that it is more piscivorous than the Canvass-back and Pochard, which, however, is by no means the case. Although in some birds and mammalia a very elongated intestinal canal is connected with piscivorous habits, yet many birds which feed exclusively on fish, such as Gannets, Auks, and Guillemots, have the intestine of only moderate length or short. It appears simply that when for some reason resulting from the economy of the species, the intestine must be elongated, it is made proportionally narrow; whereas if it be expedient that it should be short, its calibre is increased.
For more on this species, see its entry in the Birds of North America Field Guide.