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Northern Shoveler Life History



Northern Shovelers use shallow wetlands with submerged vegetation during the breeding season, nesting along the margins and in the neighboring grassy fields. Outside of the breeding season they forage in saltmarshes, estuaries, lakes, flooded fields, wetlands, agricultural ponds, and wastewater ponds.

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Shovelers eat tiny crustaceans, other aquatic invertebrates, and seeds which they filter out of the water with comblike projections (called lamellae) along the edge of the bill.

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Nest Placement


Females make a small depression on the ground, generally in areas with short vegetation within 150 feet of water.

Nest Description

Females use their body, feet, and bill to make a small depression on the ground about 8 inches wide. The nest scrape is usually surrounded on at least three sides by vegetation and lined with downy feathers.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:8-12 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.8-2.2 in (4.6-5.7 cm)
Egg Width:1.3-1.5 in (3.3-3.9 cm)
Incubation Period:22-25 days
Egg Description:Pale greenish gray or olive-buff.
Condition at Hatching:Covered in down and able to walk and swim.
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Northern Shovelers swim through wetlands, often with their bills down in the water, swinging them side to side to filter out tiny crustacean prey. Sometimes large groups swim in circles to stir up food. They don't forage on land regularly, but they do rest on land and walk along wetland edges. They are fairly social ducks, occurring in groups with shovelers and other dabbling ducks, especially during the winter. During the breeding season, they are less tolerant of other shovelers encroaching on their territory. Defensive males often chase intruders on the water and in the air. Males court females on the wintering grounds with turns, dips, wing flaps, and head pumping. Pairs stay together during the breeding season, although males will occasionally mate with a second female. After breeding, males group together in small flocks before and after molting. Males molt their flight feathers before migrating south, becoming flightless for a brief period, when they tend to stay hidden in vegetation especially at night.

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Low Concern

Northern Shovelers are common, and their populations were stable between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 5.9 million and rates them 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carefully manages duck hunting and limits the number of individuals hunters can take every year based on population size. From 2019 to 2021, hunters shot between 450,000 and 470,000 shovelers per year.

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Dubowy, Paul J. (1996). Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Pieplow, N. (2017). Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, NY, USA.

Raftovich, R. V., K. K. Fleming, S. C. Chandler, and C. M. Cain (2021). Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2019–20 and 2020-21 hunting seasons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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