The northern shoveler is a medium-sized dabbling duck, or a duck that feeds by tipping headfirst into shallow water. This species is well-known for its bill, which has a spoon or shovel shape. Because of this unique bill, they have earned the nicknames “spoonbill” and “spoony”. It uses this bill and hundreds of comb-like structures called lamellae to filter tiny zooplankton from the water. Males of this species are brightly colored, with an orange body, white chest, deep green head, and brilliant blue wing patches.
In North America, this species breeds from Alaska to northern parts of Manitoba, with the Prairie Pothole Region of the north-central U.S. and central Canada comprising the bulk of the nesting range. During migration and winter, northern shovelers are common across the southern U.S. and Mexico. They are relatively early fall and late spring migrants, compared to most other dabbling ducks.
The northern shoveler is a ground-nesting species that uses grasslands primarily in the Prairie Pothole Region of the north-central U.S. and central Canada. In winter, this species uses a wide variety of wetlands, including flooded agricultural fields, coastal lagoons, estuaries, freshwater marshes, and even deep-water lakes and reservoirs. In fact, northern shoveler are noticeably common on sewage treatment lagoons across their range, presumably due to an abundance of invertebrate prey. Although common on national wildlife refuges throughout the Southeast, there is little targeted management for this species. However, they likely benefit from freshwater emergent wetland management for other species.
Northern shovelers primarily consume tiny animals, called zooplankton, by filter feeding. However, they will also eat larger invertebrates and seeds. Groups of birds will sometimes form tight circles creating a vortex to bring food to the surface.
How you can help
You can help this species and other waterfowl by purchasing a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. The Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp is a nonprofit organization that supports promotion, preservation, sales, and better understanding of the Federal Duck Stamp’s conservation mission.
Subject matter experts
- Heath Hagy, Waterfowl Ecologist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal Register notices
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