Northern Shoveler Life History

Habitat

Habitat Marshes

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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Food

Food Omnivore

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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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Ground

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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Behavior

Behavior Dabbler

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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Conservation

Conservation Low Concern

Northern Shovelers are common and their populations were stable between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 4.5 million. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List and is 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 2012–2016, hunters have taken an average of 705,533 Northern Shovelers per year.

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Credits

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, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2016). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2016.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Pieplow, N. (2017). Peterson field guide to bird sounds of eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, NY, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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