Since I was so pleased with my wigeon sighting, I decided to drive out to the lakes west of Laramie to see which other waterbirds were around. While admiring the gorgeous fall colors,I saw a couple of mallardy-looking ducks who on closer inspection appeared to have gigantic bills. The birds were, I think, northern shovelers, Anas clypeata.
Shovelers appear to be aptly named, since their large bills, wider at the tip than at the base, could be mistaken for gardening instruments. Audubonbirds.org says this species uses “the comb-like teeth along the edges of its large bill to strain aquatic animals, plants, and seeds from the water.” Because of this adaptation, they are less likely to tip up; they instead skim the water closer to the surface to feed. See the photo to the right for an example of their skimming technique — no duck bottoms in sight!
Other names for this bird are spoonbill duck, smiling mallard, spoony, and poor-man’s mallard. ADW reports that they are sometimes even called the neighbor’s mallard becuase hunters will gift them–rather than the reportedly tastier mallards–to their neighbors.
These birds are related to the cinnamon teal that I saw in the spring, and like the teal, the males dress in plainclothes until February. A. clypeata males then get a glossy green head, snappy black bill, and white and chestnut sides.