I captured some great shots recently of a Northern Shoveler feasting on duckweed at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. In the two images I’m sharing, you can see how the duckweed has blanketed the surface of this body of water near the 4-corners area. This Shoveler is just plowing through it, and as you can see, quite a bit of duckweed collects on its feathers as it feeds. It’s remarkable to me that they can still take flight after gorging on the duckweed, but they manage it easily.
The Northern Shoveler is a dabbling duck, meaning it forages for food at or near the water’s surface. The Shoveler’s unique bill has comb-like projections called lamellae that allow it to filter tiny aquatic invertebrates and seeds from the water. This shovel-shaped bill also lets it skim algae, crustaceans, and other small creatures from marshy bottoms as it swims in wide circles, stirring up sediment.
While the shoveler is omnivorous and will eat insects, snails, tadpoles, and other animal matter, duckweed is a staple of its diet. Duckweed is a tiny floating aquatic plant filled with nutrients, and the Shoveler deftly uses its specialized bill to strain it from the water in large quantities. Watching a Shoveler plowing through a thick mat of duckweed like in these photos is a treat for any birder or nature photographer.
The duckweed seems endless at the Sequoyah refuge, providing an abundant food source for flocks of visiting Northern Shovelers this time of year. I feel lucky to have captured this feeding Shoveler in action in its element and with its unique bill adapted perfectly for accessing this food. Though they eat voraciously, they still manage to take to the skies and continue their migrations unencumbered. Interestingly, waterfowl like these Northern Shovelers actually contribute to the spread of duckweed, as fragments of the plant can get lodged on their feathers and be transported to new bodies of water along their migration routes. So while the ducks enjoy feasting on the duckweed, they inadvertently enable its proliferation.
Image Information (First Image):
- Date: 11/12/23
- Time: 10:27 AM
- Camera: Canon EOS R7
- Lens: Canon RF 100-500 mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM
- ISO: 320
- Aperture: 7.1
- Shutter: 1/1250
- Exp. Comp.: 0
- Lens (mm): 500
- Program Mode: Manual
Here is my video of this duck: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZT8D5HNpf/