111. THE SHOVELLER.
Spatula clypeata, (LINNAEUS).
Outer web of the primaries blackish; inner web drab, with a blackish tip. Axillaries pure white. Upper wing-coverts blue, separated from the green speculum by a white band. Bill twice as broad near the tip as at the base.
MALE : Head and under tail-coverts black
FEMALE : Head and under tail-coverts fulvous, streaked with brown.
VERNACULAR NAMES -.—Tidari, Punana, Tokurwalla, Ghirah, Hind.; Alipat, Sind; Dhobaha Sankhar (male), Khi-keria Sankhar (female), Nepal; Punta-mookhi, Bengal.
THE Shoveller occurs in the winter months throughout the peninsula of India from Kashmir and the Himalayas down to the extreme south, and in Ceylon. It has not yet been procured in the Andamans or Nicobars. It is found in Assam, and it has been recorded from Sylhet, Cachar and Manipur. Dr. 'Anderson obtained it at Bhamo and on the Taping River. Captain F. T. Williams informs me that it occurs on the Chindwin. It is common near Mandalay, for Captain T. S. Johnson counted thirty-five ducks of this species in a total bag of 562 ducks shot near that town at Christmas. I procured a specimen of this Duck at Fort Stedman, and Major G. Rippon writes to me that it is fairly common in the Southern Shan States. The Shoveller probably occurs much farther south, but personally I did not meet with it in Pegu, nor has it been recorded from Tenasserim.
The Shoveller is a very widely distributed Duck, being found throughout the northern hemisphere in summer, up to nearly the 70th degree of north latitude; and in winter, south to Mexico and the West Indies, over a large portion of Northern Africa, in Arabia, Persia, India, and Southern China.
The Shoveller arrives in the plains of India and Burma during October, and has generally left by the end of April. It is probable that, as suggested by Adams, some of these birds may remain to breed in Kashmir.
The Shoveller, however common it may be, is generally found in small parties, keeping to themselves, and not joining in the movements of the neighbouring parties. It is particularly tame and confiding, and is not easily driven away from its favourite haunts. It frequents pieces of water of all sizes, less frequently the banks of rivers, and seldom or never the sea-coast. It is generally found on shallow water and near the banks, for, as may be judged from the shape of its bill, it is essentially a sifter of mud. In India, it is decidedly a coarse feeder, and is often found in filthy water. Its flesh is consequently of very inferior quality. In England, however, Mr. Stevenson tells us that the flesh is excellent, and only inferior eating when killed out of season or in brackish marshes. Shovellers do not fly so swiftly as many of the True Ducks; they swim slowly, and they seldom dive. Wounded birds are very tenacious of life, and give much trouble before they are captured. Mr. E. T. Booth in his " Rough Notes " records an instance of a Shoveller having its skull fractured and a portion of the brain protruding, but, nevertheless, recovering in the course of a few weeks. This Duck appears to differ from other species in its mode of feeding, being seldom or never seen with the front part of its body immersed and the hinder part stuck up out of the water.
Mr. Cordeaux thus describes a peculiar habit of the Shoveller :—" These Ducks, I am told by those who have had the opportunities of watching them, have a curious habit of swimming round and round each other in circles, with the head and neck depressed to the surface of the water; this they will do for hours together." This, according to Mr. Alfred. Newton, as quoted by Mr. Stevenson, is no amatory action, but for the object of procuring food, as a pair, when feeding, "get opposite to one another, and swim round in a circle, holding their heads towards its centre, and their bills plunged into the water perpendicularly and up to the base, while their mandibles are employed in ' bibbling,' to use a Norfolk term. They will swim in this way for ten minutes together, always preserving their relative position on the circumference of the circle they are describing; then after a pause, and perhaps a slight removal of a yard or two, they will resume their occupation."
Mr. Seebohm has the following note on the flight and voice of this species:— "The flight of the Shoveller is not quite so rapid as that of some other Ducks, but the pinions are moved rapidly and very audibly even at some distance. It is not otherwise a very noisy bird. The duck quacks not unlike the domestic species; the voice of the drake is a little deeper ; if we represent the former as quaak, the latter might be represented as quauk. On the wing the note is a guttural puck puck."
Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey has the following interesting note in his "Fowler in Ireland " :— "
" They swim in bunches of from seven or eight to fifteen—that being the number I have usually seen together, seldom more —and are very easy to approach. In calm water they may be noticed paddling lazily forward as though asleep, their heavy-looking bills rippling along the surface as if in the act of drinking. Perhaps when at rest the head is overbalanced by the unusual weight attached, and it may be an exertion for the bird to keep its bill in a constantly horizontal position. They fly well; not so boldly perhaps as other ducks, but not so low as the divers. I have more than once seen these birds suck up the falling rain with their spoon-shaped bills as it, for the moment, lay on their somewhat cup-shaped backs. I never remarked this habit in other species of duck. Shovellers are poor divers when wounded. The feet are peculiarly small, and give but weak propelling power to the body. The foot of a Shoveller is smaller in proportion to its body than that of any of the true ducks. The larger the foot in the duck tribe the better they can dive. . . . When feeding the bird swims swiftly along the water, skimming the surface with its broad bill, quickly opening and closing it, and causing a loud rippling noise that may be heard many paces distant."
Mr. Seebohm, writing of the nesting habits of this species, says:—
"The Shoveller is a somewhat late breeder; eggs are seldom found in this country before the middle of May, and in high latitudes not until the middle of June. During pairing-time the males may constantly be seen chasing the females, and until the female begins to sit she is generally followed by several males every time she leaves her nest; but the Shoveller cannot be regarded as a polyandrous bird like the Cuckoo. Each female appears to have a male specially attached to herself, who waits upon her, and does not venture to rise from the water until she takes wing, but is not allowed to interfere in the selection of a site for the nest, or in the important operation of building it, or, after the eggs are hatched, in the care of the young. The nest is generally placed in the open, well concealed in long grass or heath, and is not very skilfully made. The depression in which it is placed, if deep, is only slenderly lined with dead grass or sedge ; but, if shallow, a considerable amount of material is collected to give the nest the required depth. When the female leaves her eggs after she has begun to sit, she carefully covers them with down. Seven to nine is the usual number of eggs, but occasionally clutches are found as large as ten to fourteen. Only one brood is reared in the year; but if the first nest be robbed before incubation has proceeded very far, a second nest is made, but seldom more than five or six eggs are laid in it."
The eggs of the Shoveller are nearly elliptical in shape, one end being very slightly more pointed than the other. In colour they are a pale greenish grey, and they measure from 1.8 to 2.2 in length and from 1.4 to 1.6 in breadth. The shell is very smooth and has a little gloss. The down has pale centres and very minute white tips, the general colour being a very dark brown.
The adult male has the forehead and crown black, with a slight gloss. With this exception, the whole head and neck are black with a brilliant green or purple gloss, less marked on the throat than elsewhere. A brown band passes down the middle of the mantle from the hind-neck to the back. The remainder of the mantle, the sides of the breast, and the upper portion of the breast are pure white. The lower portion of the breast and the whole abdomen are deep vinous chestnut, somewhat paler on the sides of the body, where the feathers are vermiculated with very narrow black lines, becoming broader on the flanks. There is a large patch of white on each side of the base of the tail. The under tail-coverts are black, the base vermiculated with white. The axillaries are pure white. The under wing-coverts are mostly white. The back is black, the feathers margined with pale fulvous. The shorter scapulars are white outside, black inside. The longer, inner scapulars are black, each feather with a white streak near the tip. The longer, outer scapulars are blue on the outer web, partly black and partly white on the inner. The rump and upper tail-coverts are deep black. The two middle tail-feathers are dark brown ; the others white, with some brown along the shaft. The primaries are drab on the inner web, with a black tip; entirely dark brown on the Outer web; the shafts white. The first two secondaries are black; the other outer secondaries are metallic green on the outer, black on the inner, web. The inner secondaries are black, all but the innermost, with a white streak at the tip. The upper wing-coverts are blue, the lower series broadly tipped with white, forming a band above the speculum.
Younger males have the white scapulars vermiculated and margined with brown, and many of the white feathers of the mantle mottled with brown;
Males approaching maturity have the forehead and crown black, but otherwise the head and the neck resemble the same parts in the female. The mantle is entirely brown; and the white sides of the breast are variegated with black and fulvous bars. The sides of the body are coarsely barred, not finely vermiculated, with black. In other respects these males resemble the adult males.
A male, evidently in the post-nuptial plumage, killed in October, resembles the female, but may be recognised at once by the pure blue of the upper wing-coverts, none of the feathers being margined with fulvous, as in the female; and by the plain black rump and upper tail-coverts.
The adult female has the forehead and crown dark brown, streaked with fulvous. The remainder of the head and the whole neck are fulvous, streaked with dark brown, except the throat. The mantle, back, scapulars, rump and upper tail-coverts are dark brown or blackish, each feather with a very distinct fulvous margin and an interior bar, parallel to the margin, of the same colour. The tail-feathers are brown with pale margins, and interior fulvous bars. The whole breast and the sides of the body are fulvous, each feather with one or more crescentic black bands. The abdomen is plain fulvous, with a chestnut tinge in parts, and the lowermost portion mottled with brown. The under tail-coverts are fulvous, streaked with brown. The axillaries are white, and the under wing-coverts are nearly entirely so. The upper wing-coverts are pale blue, each feather very narrowly margined with fulvous ; the lower series tipped with white. The primaries resemble those of the male. Of the outer secondaries, the first four or five are plain black; the others metallic green on the outer, black on the inner, web. The inner, long secondaries are brown, with a white shaft-streak near the tip.
The above description refers, I think, to the old female. Younger females, instead of having the abdomen plain fulvous, have all the feathers of that part centred with brown. In many females there are streaks on the throat.
Male : length about 21; wing about 9 1/2; tail 3 1/2. Females: length about 18 1/2; wing 8 1/2; tail 3. The bill, in males, is black with a greyish tinge; in females, the upper mandible is brown, the lower dull orange. The irides vary from brown to yellow and reddish orange. The feet are red. Weight, up to nearly 2 lb.