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Northern Shoveler

Anas clypeata (aka Spoonbill)


The head, neck, and speculum of male northern shovelers are iridescent green, their chests are white, and the remaining underparts are a bright chestnut. The females are generally a pattern of buffs and browns. Both sexes have pale blue inner forewings and orange-yellow legs and feet.

male Northern Shoveler

The most distinctive feature of the shoveler is its bill, which is twice as wide at the tip than at the base. This uniquely-shaped bill accounts for this species' common names -- shoveler and spoonbill. Ducklings hatch with a typical duckbill that enlarges as they mature.

Distribution and Habitat

Northern shovelers breed throughout Eurasia and western North America, as well as the Great Lakes region of the United States. In winter various populations migrate to various southern locations, from northeastern Africa through India and southern China to Japan and throughout Mexico and southern North America.

During the breeding season they are found in shallow pools and marshes that have good cover and dry areas for nesting. In the winter they can be found near freshwater marshes, swamps, and flooded areas.


Breeding takes place from April through June. Nests are built on dry land close to fresh water and consist of a cup-shaped depression "dug" into the ground by the female and lined with grasses and down feathers. Between nine and eleven olive-colored eggs are laid, and they are incubated by the female alone for 23 to 25 days.

The male usually abandons the female soon after incubation starts.

Ducklings are able to follow the mother almost immediately after hatching. They are able to fly and become independent after 40 to 45 days.


To feed, the shoveler usually puts its head and neck down into shallow water, takes into its bill whatever it finds there, and swings its head from side to side. This motion causes the mud and water in the bill to sift out through the "teeth" edging it, leaving the bird a "shoveful" of food to be swallowed. A typical "shoveful" of food consists of tiny crustaceans, molluscs, insects and their larvae, and various pieces of vegetation. Shovelers also eat water beetles, small minnows, and snails.

Habits and Behaviors

Northern shovelers usually congregate in small groups of up to twenty birds, but may travel in larger numbers during migration.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Anseriformes
family Anatidae
subfamily Anatinae
genus & species Anas clypeata


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The Robinson Library >> Order Anseriformes

This page was last updated on August 31, 2018.