Northern Shoveler

Spatula clypeata

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 1996
  • Paul J. Dubowy

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Northern Shoveler in North America.

This species also breeds in Europe and Asia.

Adult male Northern Shoveler, breeding plumage, March 2001, Bolsa Chica, CA

; photographer Marie Reed

Adult female Northern Shoveler, breeding plumage; Oregon, May

Malheur NWR, Oregon, May 2004.; photographer Gerrit Vyn

The Northern Shoveler is a common holarctic duck with a high degree of morphological and feeding specializations. Unlike most dabbling ducks (genus Anas), it has a bill ideally suited for straining small swimming crustaceans from the water. Previous studies have shown that Northern Shovelers feed primarily by holding their bills in the water while swimming, straining out small invertebrates by continually dabbling.

Although easily recognizable, this species is less well known than other dabbling ducks such as the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Northern Pintail (A. acuta), or Green-winged Teal (A. crecca). Even among waterfowl hunters, it rates a low standing, perhaps as much from ignorance of this species as from experience. Although this duck has been well studied in North America and the western Palearctic, less is known about its biology and habits in Asia.

As with other species of dabbling ducks, the Northern Shoveler is found in a variety of wetland habitats, including prairie potholes, saline wetlands, and lacustrine margins in summer, and in playas, coastal marshes, and rice prairies in winter. Although its courtship, nesting behavior, postbreeding biology, and migration are generally similar to that observed in other dabbling ducks, it differs in other aspects of its life history. For example, this is the most territorial of all North American dabbling ducks, and males remain paired with females longer than in other species, in turn affecting life-history parameters such as the mating system and courtship.

Recommended Citation

Dubowy, P. J. (1996). Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.