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Northern Shoveler

Anas clypeata

Northern shovelers are one of the earliest winter ducks to arrive in the Chesapeake Bay region and one of the last to leave. (Hans Olofsson/Flickr)
Northern shovelers are one of the earliest winter ducks to arrive in the Chesapeake Bay region and one of the last to leave. (Hans Olofsson/Flickr)

Also known as the spoonbill, the northern shoveler is a medium-sized dabbling duck with a distinctive shovel- or spoon-shaped bill, which it uses to separate particles of food from the water. 


  • Large shovel- or spoon-shaped bill is twice as wide at its tip than at its base, and equipped with a row of bristles or comb-like structures used to filter food from the water 
  • Males and females have different patterns and coloring
  • Drake (male): iridescent green head, white breast, chestnut-brown flanks, black back. Bill is dark gray or black. Eyes yellow. Wingspan around 31 inches
  • Female: mottled buffs and browns. Bill is grayish yellow marked with orange on edges 
  • Both sexes: pale blue patches on inner forewings, orange legs and feet 
  • Immature ducks and non-breeding males resemble adult female in appearance, although non-breeding males can often be identified by a white streak located behind bill 


  • Found in open, shallow wetlands across much of North America
  • Favor freshwater marshes, ponds and swamps and, in winter, salt bays 


  • Found in late fall and winter on Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore and, from time to time, in upper Potomac River near Washington, D.C.
  • Broad geographical range extends south into Central America and overseas into Europe and Asia 


  • Omnivorous, feeding on crustaceans, mollusks, small minnows, insects and their larvae, seeds and aquatic plants
  • Forage in shallow water over mud bottoms, swimming along with bill lowered. Must push water and mud through closed bill's filtering bristles before food can be eaten 
  • Social feeding is common. Shovelers are drawn to feeding areas by other birds, and will take advantage of food particles that other swimming or wading birds have churned to the water's surface 
  • Single birds may swim in tight circles to create whirlpools and stir up particles of food 


  • Common waterfowl predators in North America include red fox, raccoon, owls, hawks, large gulls, mink, weasels, skunks, coyotes and crows 


  • Strong and direct fliers
  • When alarmed, will twist and turn, revealing pale blue patches on inner forewings


  • Male: a low took, took, took
  • Female: a light quack 
Northern Shoveler courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen/Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Breeding takes place in spring
  • Males exhibit elaborate courtship behavior, including various calls, turns, dips and wing flaps
  • Nests constructed on dry land close to fresh water, often surrounded on at least three sides by vegetation. Female forms neat cup by twisting her body on the ground. Nest built of grasses and lined with female's down feathers
  • Female lays between 8 and 12 pale greenish gray or olive-colored eggs
  • Incubation by female alone begins once all eggs are laid and lasts 23 to 25 days
  • Young start following female almost immediately after hatching. Can fly after 40 to 45 days, after which birds are independent 

Other Facts:

  • During the heat of the day, northern shovelers often rest on mud next to the water
  • Pairs are monogamous, remaining together longer than pairs of other dabbling duck species
  • When flushed off nest, female often defecates on eggs, apparently to deter predators
  • Ducklings hatch with typical duck bill that enlarges as duckling matures 
  • A game bird, northern shovelers are often shot by hunters because of their resemblance to mallards 

Sources and Additional Information:

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