The long and broad-tipped bill of the shoveller, very like a shoeing-horn in shape, and provided along the edges with a comb of horny sifting-plates, is so characteristic that anyone could pick the owner out in the dark by merely feeling its beak. It is therefore unnecessary to go into any details about the plumage of the mottled-brown female, but in justice to the drake it must be mentioned that he combines the mallard's green head with the pintail's white breast, and wings bluer than the garganey's with flanks and belly redder than the Brahminy.
He is, in fact, a very flashy-looking bird when in colour, but in undress plumage he is very like his brown mate, but is distinguishable by having the blue wing-patch. Even his bill at this time changes colour, from jet-black to the olive and orange of the female. He keeps his undress a long time, not coming into colour as a rule before Christmas. Take away his bill and wings, and the shoveller is a rather small duck, only weighing about a pound and a half with those appendages included.
He is also of rather small account from a sporting point of view, for though one of our very commonest winter ducks, spreading all over the Empire except the islands in the Bay of Bengal, he is not numerous anywhere, going in small flocks or pairs, which somewhat affect the company of other species. His tastes, more¬over, are low ; although to be found here and there in any sort of watery environment, what he really likes is muddy shallows and weedy ponds, and even dirty little village tanks, where stores of organic matter appeal to his palate. He is exquisitely provided for extracting nutriment suspended in water by his wonderful bill, which, as Darwin long ago pointed out, is like the mouth of a whalebone whale in miniature ; the principle is the same in all ducks' bills, but in the shoveller it is carried to perfection, and so this bird seldom feeds by exploring the bottom or foraging on shore; but paddles slowly about, often turning in a circle, and bibbles assiduously, finding food where no other duck could obtain it. Any sort of food, vegetable or animal, passes muster with him, but of course he is no dirtier a feeder than other ducks when found in a clean environment ; he simply takes what comes first. But in any case he has a bad name as food, though I must say I think this may perhaps be exaggerated by a natural prejudice against a bird often seen in dirty places. This duck is not a wary bird, but, in spite of its lazy and slow movements on land and water, its small feet and short legs not being suited for rapid running and swimming, it is active enough on the wing, and will even oblige a flock of teal with a lead. It cannot dive much, so is easily captured if winged.
The note of the male is quuck quuck, but one does not often hear it except when he is courting ; he is dull and stolid then as at most other times, simply moving his head up and down in a daft sort of way. The female seems to have the ordinary quack. Shovellers come into India rather late, about the beginning of November, and sometimes spend all the winter in Kashmir; they are also late in leaving, staying in some places as late as April or even May. One has been met with, with a brood in Ceylon in March, but such breeding in our limits is doubtless quite exceptional. In its breeding haunts, which include the north temperate portion of the whole world, it nests on the
ground and lays nine eggs or so of a yellowish-grey colour. The young are very small, hardly bigger than young teal, and their beaks are not broadened at first, though rather long, but they start surface-bibbling an,d revolving round and round at once.
The shoveller is well off for names; in Nepal even the sexes are distinguished, the male as Dhobaha, and the female as Khikeria, Sankhar; in Sind the name is Alipat and in Bengal Pantamuhki, while, in addition to that given at the head of this article, there are other Hindustani titles— Punana, Tokarwalah, and Ghirah.