FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

The northern shoveler is a medium-sized dabbling duck - 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.

Scientific Name

Anas clypeata
Common Name
Northern Shoveler
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Species

Identification Numbers

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Characteristics

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Sound

Drakes call woh-woh and took-took; the hen's quack is feeble.

Physical Characteristics

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.

Size & Shape

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.

 

Color & Pattern

The drake has a green head and neck, a white breast, brown sides and pale blue shoulder patches. The hen is buff and light brown with grayish shoulder patches. In flight northern shovelers can be confused with blue-winged teal, because of similar pale blue shoulder patches, however shovelers are larger in size.

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Life Cycle

Characteristics
Reproduction

Females lay eight to 12 greenish eggs in nest that includes a small depression on the ground about eight inches wide and lined with downy feathers.

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Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

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 will even make use of deep-water lakes and reservoirs. In fact, northern shovelers 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.

Lake
Wetland
Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

Northern shovelers primarily eat 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.

Geography

Characteristics
Range

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.

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