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Big beaked shoveler ducks are dabbling in London

Posted: Thursday 11th January 2018 by Ian-Tokelove

Shoveler in flight by Mark PearsonShoveler in flight by Mark Pearson

The bleak, cold months of a British winter may seem inhospitable to wildlife, but our shores offer sanctuary to millions of migratory birds at this time of year.

Look for them dabbling along the shallow edges of reservoirs and park lakes...

One of these, the shoveler, is a relatively common dabbling duck that spends its summers in the Arctic and subarctic, before migrating south to escape the extreme, sub-zero temperatures of winter.

Shoveler are so-called because of their big, shovel-shaped beaks, which make them distinguishable from other ducks, even at a distance. On the edges of their broad beaks are fringes of small, comb-like structures, which act like sieves.

The birds sweep their bills back and forth skimming food from the water's surface, filtering out invertebrates, plankton and plant matter. As surface skimmers, they do not have to compete with other species of duck, which generally dabble or dive for food that is deeper in the water.

Seeing shoveler ducks in London

Shoveler prefer still, shallow waters, favouring coastal marshes, fens and flooded fields, but London provides good spots for them as well. Look for them dabbling along the shallow edges of reservoirs and park lakes, or at specialised nature reserves such as Woodberry Wetlands, Rainham Marshes and the London Wetland Centre.

At Walthamstow Wetlands, they often feed around the islands that dot the reservoirs, where tree roots growing into the water provide a rich, sheltered habitat for aquatic insects.

At this time of year, the male is resplendent in his early breeding plumage, with a bottle green head, white breast and russet-red sides. Females are mottled brown, with a pale blue forewing.

Most shoveler head north for summer, with London birds typically taking on impressive journeys to Iceland or Scandinavia in April. Some, however, will choose to stay, and a few will breed, raising precious clutches of big beaked ducklings in the capital.  

Shoveler duck by Adam Jones

Banner image: Mark Pearson. Words: Mathew Frith and Ian Tokelove. First published in the Evening Standard 5th January 2018

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