This has been an interesting winter on the lake in My Florida Backyard. Perhaps because of a lot of new vegetative growth in the lake itself (we believe most of it is the very invasive hydrilla, but it's not something we have any control over as the lake belongs to the HOA), we have seen winter visitors we've never noticed before. Our wintering water fowl have always included Lesser Scaup and Ring-Necked Ducks, but in recent months we've also noticed Blue Winged Teal and American Coots. And this past weekend, we documented another Florida winter bird that was new to us - the Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata).
We first noticed this pair while watching the more usual mallards on the lake, but quickly noticed something different. The bills of these birds are simply massive, and have a very obvious shovel shape. A quick web search for "duck shovel bill" gave us our answer, and the information that this bird is extremely common in the US. It winters here in the South, migrating north to its breeding grounds in the Northwest US and Canada.
The glossy green head of the male and obvious large bill make it easy to identify this bird. Interestingly, several of our birding guides note that this bird is more of a forager and is less likely to upend itself, instead feeding by swimming along with its head underwater. Our experience has been quite different, as these birds spend at least half their time with their hind ends up in the air looking for food (placing themselves squarely in the category we here in My Florida Backyard call "butt ducks"). This does give you a nice chance to notice the blue and green feathers that hide underneath their wings.
The guides also note that this species is monogamous, so the pair that's been in our pond all weekend are probably a mated pair getting ready to head north for the summer. We're not sure exactly why more species of migrating waterfowl are choosing the lake in My Florida Backyard this winter, but one thing's for sure - we're not complaining!