Whirlpool of Feeding Northern Shovelers on the Great Salt Lake

/, Birds, Davis County, Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, Northern Shovelers, Utah/Whirlpool of Feeding Northern Shovelers on the Great Salt Lake

A Whirlpool of feeding Northern ShovelersA Whirlpool of feeding Northern Shovelers – Nikon D810, f16, 1/500, ISO 500, -1.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

During the non-breeding season Northern Shovelers are not as territorial as they are during the breeding season and there are times here in Utah that I see huge rafts of Northern Shovelers out on the water at Farmington Bay and on the Great Salt Lake from the causeway to Antelope Island. In those rafts the numbers of individual shovelers can be in the hundreds to thousands.

During the winter I often see them feeding as a group near the second bridge on the causeway to Antelope Island and occasionally I see them spinning either clockwise or counter clockwise in a tight group which then forms a whirlpool effect that brings the food to the center of the flock. It is interesting to see this whirlpool effect of Northern Shovelers on the surface of the Great Salt Lake and to hear the sounds of their bills dabbling in the water. I photographed this “whirlpool” of shovelers last week from the causeway to the island because I wanted to capture this feeding behavior.

The shovelers may be feeding on plankton in the lake or they might be feeding on the eggs of the brine shrimp. I can’t be certain and I’d rather say I don’t know than speculate without the facts.

Female Northern Shoveler close upFemale Northern Shoveler close up – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Northern Shovelers are dabbling ducks with large, elongated, spatulated bills that have comblike structures called lamellae along the lateral sides of their bills that are used to strain their food from the water. In this image of a hen Northern Shoveler photographed at Farmington Bay WMA the black comblike lamellae can be seen on the side of her bill. It is more difficult to see the lamellae of the males because their bills are as dark as the lamellae.

Life is good. Life is better with birds.



  1. Elephant's Child February 2, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Much prettier, and more co-operative than humans at a buffet.

  2. Utahbooklover February 2, 2016 at 10:51 am

    Can’t see much in the whirlpool on my iPad, but the closeup of the female is beautiful.

  3. Patty Chadwick February 2, 2016 at 8:50 am

    That must be an incredible sight!!! I’ve never even heard of it before…almost looks lIke a school of fish…you must have been stunned the first time you saw it…

  4. Molly February 2, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Amazing shots, both. I love the freckles on her bill, too. In fact, that’s one of my favorite shots as it’s such a lovely “portrait”. I’d love to see a “zoomed out” image of the shovelers feeding.

  5. Bob McPherson February 2, 2016 at 6:26 am

    Beautiful images, Mia. The whirlpool is very interesting.

  6. Nancy Collins February 2, 2016 at 6:14 am

    Love the whirlpool effect and the study of the hens bill. Awesome Mia!

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