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Northern Shoveler

Common Name: Northern Shoveler.

Scientific Name: Spatula Clypeata.

What to look for?  Picture a Mallard with a huge bill resembling a spoon or shovel. The Northern Shoveler has a large spatulate bill - twice as wide at the tip than at the base. On the male duck, or drake, the bill is black. On the female, this distinctive bill is orange. Drakes have a long, dark green head (may look dark blue in some light) with a yellow eye. They have bright white breast and a chestnut belly and flanks. The female Northern Shoveler has a coarsely marked brown head and body with a powdery-blue shoulder patch. Both sexes have pale blue inner forewings and orange-yellow legs and feet.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Early Spring. You may find Northern Shovelers here in late March or early April. They can be seen on the surface of our ponds – especially on the mud banks on the pond adjacent to the south side of Carillon at Stonegate.

How big are they? The Northern Shoveler averages approximately nineteen (19) inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately thirty-one (31) inches. Northern Shovelers weigh in between fifteen (15) and twenty-nine (29) ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Northern Shovelers are strong fliers with powerful, rapid wing beats. When alarmed, they will twist and turn as they take to flight, revealing pale blue patches on their inner forewings.

How else do they behave? Northern Shovelers often have their heads down in shallow wetlands, sweeping or swinging their bills side to side to filter out aquatic invertebrates and seeds from the water. Unlike Mallards, they do not forage on land regularly. Northern Shovelers are fairly social ducks and may be seen in groups with other Shovelers and other dabbling ducks. Males molt their flight feathers before migrating south, becoming flightless for a brief period.

What’s for dinner? Northern Shovelers primarily consume tiny crustaceans, other aquatic invertebrates, and seeds by filter feeding.

Where do they take up residence? Northern Shovelers has an extremely global geographical range. They breed throughout western North America and Eurasia. In winter, they are found throughout southern North America and Mexico as well as north-east Africa, India, Southern China, and Japan. During the breeding season, Northern Shovelers are found in in shallow wetlands, coastal marshes, rice fields, flooded fields, lakes, and ponds that have good cover and dry areas nearby for nesting. They tend to use more stagnant pools of water than other ducks, so you may also find them in smaller and murkier pools of water.

When and where do they breed and nest? Breeding takes place from April until June. The Northern Shoveler is a ground-nesting species. They nest and breed from Alaska to northern parts of Manitoba and in the grasslands of the Prairie Pothole Region of the north-central U.S. and central Canada. The female lays a single clutch of around eight (8) to twelve (12) eggs. These eggs incubate over the next 25 days. The ducklings are born precocial (able to feed itself and move independently almost immediately). After approximately 45 days, these young Northern Shovelers can fly and become independent.

Where do they migrate? In North America, Norther Shovelers are long-distance migrants as they head for warmer climates. They migrate to the southern U.S. and Mexico. Most shovelers migrate in small groups, moving north late in spring and south early in fall.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern. Northern Shovelers are common, and their populations were stable, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 4.5 million. They are not on any watch list and is a species of low conservation concern.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Male Northern Shovelers give a wheezy ‘took-took’ call during courtship, in flight, and when alarmed. Females give a nasal-sounding ‘quack’ typically during courtship and throughout the breeding season. The wings of male Northern Shovelers produce a rattling sound during takeoff. Here is a link to the sounds of the Northern Shoveler.

Interesting Facts About the Northern Shoveler:

  • The shovel-shaped bill of the Northern Shoveler has approximately 100 fine projections, or lamellae, along the edges that act like a colander, filtering out tiny crustaceans, seeds, and aquatic invertebrates from the water.

  • Because of this unique shape of their bill – spoon-like, Northern Shovelers are called “spoonbill” and “spoony”.

  • Northern Shovelers do not just occur in the Americas, they also breed across Europe and spend the winter throughout Europe, Africa, and India.

  • The oldest recorded Northern Shoveler was approximately 16 years old.

For more information on Northern Shovelers and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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