Photo: Greg W. Lasley/Vireo

Northern Shoveler

Anas clypeata

Many of the dabbling ducks use their flat bills to strain food items from the water, but the big spatulate bill of the Northern Shoveler is adapted to take this habit to the extreme. Flocks of shovelers often swim along with their big bills barely submerged in front of them, straining food from the muddy soup of shallow waters. Despite their heavy-set build, shovelers are good fliers; at large gatherings, groups often are seen taking off, circling the area repeatedly, then alighting again.
Conservation status Common and widespread.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Marshes, ponds; in winter, also salt bays. In summer in open country such as prairie, marsh, or tundra, in vicinity of shallow water. In migration and winter on alkaline lakes, fresh marshes, tidal estuaries, or any shallow waters with extensive muddy margins, including stagnant or polluted waters not much favored by other ducks.
Many of the dabbling ducks use their flat bills to strain food items from the water, but the big spatulate bill of the Northern Shoveler is adapted to take this habit to the extreme. Flocks of shovelers often swim along with their big bills barely submerged in front of them, straining food from the muddy soup of shallow waters. Despite their heavy-set build, shovelers are good fliers; at large gatherings, groups often are seen taking off, circling the area repeatedly, then alighting again.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female
  • immature male (1st winter)
  • adult male, nonbreeding
  • adult female
  • adult males, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly by swimming slowly forward with the bill skimming the surface or with the head partly submerged, often swinging the bill from side to side as it sifts food from the muddy water. Seldom up-ends, rarely dives, seldom feeds on land.


Eggs

9-12, sometimes 6-14. Shades of pale olive. If first clutch of eggs is destroyed, replacement clutch usually has fewer eggs. Incubation is by female only, 21-27 days. Young: within a few hours after eggs hatch, female leads young to water, generally keeping them close to cover of marsh vegetation. Young are capable of flight 52-60 days after hatching.


Young

within a few hours after eggs hatch, female leads young to water, generally keeping them close to cover of marsh vegetation. Young are capable of flight 52-60 days after hatching.

Diet

varies with season and habitat. In winter may feed mostly on seeds and other parts of aquatic plants, such as sedges, pondweeds, grasses, and others. Also (especially in summer) eats mollusks, insects, crustaceans, sometimes small fish.


Nesting

Pair formation begins in winter and continues during spring migration. Several males may court one female, gathering around her on water. Each male in turn attempts to lead female away, by swimming away or by short flight; female indicates acceptance by flying away with male. Male remains with female longer than in most ducks, often through part of incubation period. Nest site is usually close to water, generally in area of short grass. Nest (built by female) is a shallow depression partly filled with dried grasses and weeds, lined with down.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates in flocks. Migratory period is quite prolonged in both spring and fall, with many birds moving late in spring and early in fall.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

Migrates in flocks. Migratory period is quite prolonged in both spring and fall, with many birds moving late in spring and early in fall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Low croak, cluck, or quack.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Duck-like Birds Surface Feeding Ducks

Northern Shoveler

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
Zoom InOut

Explore Similar Birds