Kerala is a major destination for a variety of foreign visitors, including the feathered ones. Among the less frequented birds is the Northern shoveler, that arrives in a gap of some years during the month of September and stays here till May.
The colourful bird with a dark green head, white breast, brown flanks and a yellow ring around the eyes flies here all the way from northern Europe, northern parts of America and some Asian countries, where it breeds. During winter, Northern shoveler migrates to Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Ornithologists have been studying the bird for long. A bird that was ringed in Sindh was later found in Siberia. Another bird ringed in Kazakhstan was sighted in New Delhi.
The bird gets its name from the shape of the bill, which resembles a spatula or shovel. In Kerala also, the bird goes by the name ‘korichundan’ (bird with a shovel bill). Its scientific name, Spatula clypeata, too refers to this feature, which makes this bird distinct from other duck species.
The bill has a membrane similar to a sieve that helps net small organisms in the water. When this duck swims it keeps the bills open allowing water to enter the mouth. The small organisms in water get trapped in the sieve and serve as the bird’s food. Main preys of the Northern shoveler are clams, tiny fish, insects and worms. The stem of water plants and their grains also are consumed. On some occasions, the bird search for food on land too.
Freshwater lakes are the favourite haunts of Northern shoveler. It also resides in fields, rivers and other water bodies where water plants are abundant. Seen in pairs as well as flocks, the bird rarely produces sounds. Another trait of this bird is a fight between males to win over a female.
The nests are built during the rainy season 25 to 100 metres away from the water bodies. Grasslands are the preferred spots for the purpose. Nests are lined by moss and feathers on which up to 12 eggs are laid. The eggs, which are light green in colour, are incubated solely by the female. The incubation period is 21 to 27 days.