At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Duck-like Birds, Surface Feeding Ducks
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Erratic
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Migrates in flocks. Migratory period is quite prolonged in both spring and fall, with many birds moving late in spring and early in fall.
17-20" (43-51 cm). Male has green head, white chest, rusty sides; female mottled brown, with big gray and orange bill. Blue wing patch obvious in flight. Molting male may show pale face crescent.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Blue, Brown, Green, Orange, White
Pointed, Rounded, Short, Wedge-shaped
Songs and Calls
Low croak, cluck, or quack.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Common and widespread.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Northern Shoveler. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
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.