Mallards and Shovelers: Common Green-Headed Ducks

By Dave Hanks

Even though green is so prevalent in outdoor settings, few birds exhibit the color. Two very common duck species do have green heads, however. The colors of the Mallard and the Northern Shoveler are basically the same. They are just arranged in a different pattern:

Mallard = green head – rusty breast – white belly

Shoveler= green head – white chest – rusty belly

The chest colors are the best field marks for differentiating between the two birds. The huge, scoop-shovel bill of the Shoveler is a good clue also, but not as noticeable at a distance.

Both are “dabbling” or “puddle ducks.” These ducks seldom dive. They tip, tail up out of the water, to reach aquatic vegetation. They also require a running start to take off from the water. Short tails do not produce as much drag. That is why water birds do not have long ones.

Ducks are a problem to get close to. They are used to being hunted and are very wary of humans. As we drive the roads of refuges, ducks lift off from the water in great numbers before our truck gets close to them. So either sitting in a blind is required, or a city park where the water fowl are tamer. Some species are much more flighty than others. The Mallard seems to be one that is a little easier to approach. Shovelers can be spotted at a distance better than most ducks. Their prominent white chest is really evident.

We are not hunters – hunting only with a camera, but we support Ducks Unlimited. Knowing hunters, I realize they are going to make sure that adequate habitat is preserved and those wetlands aid many other species besides ducks. Wetlands are also very valuable as filters for run-off waters and in flood control.

(Top = Northern Shoveler - Bottom = Mallard)