Photo: Greg W. Lasley/Vireo

Northern Shoveler

Spatula 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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Northern Shoveler

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Northern Shoveler

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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