“One of the handsomest and perhaps also one of the least known amongst our group of Anatidae is the shovelor (shoveler); the varigated plumage, dark ruddy breast, and bright blue wing of the drake, exhibit one of those instances in which nature, for its own special reasons, lavishes much beauty of colour on the male, whilst the female is clothed with feathers of a far less attractive hue,” writes T.H. Potts in 1870.
“In the case of the shovelor, may not this remarkable distinction in the plumage of the sexes be regarded as a protection for the eggs during the period of incubation, rendering the female less liable to observation than if she was arrayed with brighter colours, with which she could scarcely elude the keen vision of the harriers, the most successful of egg robbers. A habit of this duck would appear confirmatory of this view; we have repeatedly noticed in the breeding seaon thar groups of shovelors which dot the lakes, here and there, are nearly all drakes, a fact which indicates that the male bird has little, if anything, to do with the nest or the labour of incubation.
“For years we hunted unsuccessfully for the nest, trying the most likely swamps in the neighbourhood of its haunts, in the hope of making the discovery, but our diligent quests were in vain; one of the writer’s sons was at last successful, as the following communication will show: — ‘Hurray for the shovelors! Yesterday we found a nest at last; it was placed not in a swamp, or even near water, but on the side of one of the low downs in Craig Phillips ( near the Rangitata), sheltered by a couple of tufts of tussock and a plant of Spaniard grass; it was made of fine grass, in which was a fair amount of down, but not so much as is usually seen in the nest of the grey duck; it is deep, and rather narrow across the top (about 7 inches); the eggs, ten in number, ovoiconical in form, very smooth and fine in texture, creamy white with a slight greenish tint, measure in length 2 inches 1 1/2 lines, with a breadth of 1 inch 5 1/2 lines.’
“This nest was probably commenced in the first week of October, as some of the eggs placed under a hen were hatched on November 18. The young bird greatly resembles young grey duck in colour, being clouded with brown and yellow, but the peculiar bill, with its broad point, is noticeable when ity emerges from the shell.”
The Australasian shoveler was the first of the New Zealand ducks to take to the open ocean as a refuge from hunters. Their swift and erratic flight also aids in their survival but the species replies readily to decoys and callers. About 30,000 are shot each year in the duck shooting season, out of an estimated national population of just 150,000 birds.
Unlike other dabbling ducks, the Australasian shoveler cannot supplement its diet by grazing on grass roots or grains. The edges of their bills have fine growths - lamellae - through which only soft foods can be sieved. They feed on fresh water invertebrates and the seeds of aquatic plants. They are sometimes found on flooded pasture but only to feed on worms and insects. The fertile, raupo-fringed lowland shallows that they prefer remain under constant threat of drainage.
There are two sub species of Australasian shoveler, the nominate rhynchotis which breeds in Australia and variegata which breeds in New Zealand. They are therefore classified as a native bird.
Other common names: —
New Zealand shoveler, spoonbill, spoonie, kuruwhengu
49cm, male, 650g., female, 600g; breeding male has blue-grey head with a white crescent in front of golden eye; breast off-white with dark brown mottling; flanks bright chestnut with prominent white patch at base of tail; bill blue black in male and greenish grey in female; legs orange yellow in male and dull yellow in female. Female, streaked and spotted buff brown; both sexes have heavy spatulate bill; juvenile similar to female but darker.
Where to find: —
Prefer shallow fertile wetlands. Tend to shy away from city ponds but otherwise widespread.
Credit for the photograph: —
Illustration description: —
Buller, W.R., Birds of New Zealand, 1888.
Gould, John, Birds of Australia, 1840-48.
T.H. Potts, Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, Volume 3, 1870.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Page date & version: —
Saturday, 17 May, 2014; ver2009v1