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Northern Shoveler


Northern shovelers breed in the parklands, short- and mixed-grass prairies of Canada, and the grasslands of the north-central United States. They prefer shallow marshes that are mud-bottomed and rich in invertebrate life. Nest sites are generally located on the ground in grassy areas lacking woody cover and away from open water. Female northern shovelers lay an average of 9 eggs.


Latin: Spatula clypeata

Average length: M 19.4", F 19"

Average weight: M 1.5 lbs., F 1.4 lbs.


Perhaps the most visible diagnostic characteristic of the northern shoveler is its large spoon-shaped bill, which widens towards the tip and creates a shape unique among North American waterfowl. Male northern shovelers have an iridescent green head and neck, white chest and breast and chestnut belly and sides. They have a white stripe extending from the breast along the margin of the gray-brown back, and white flank spots. The wings have a gray-blue shoulder patch, which is separated from a brilliant green speculum by a tapered white stripe. The bill is black in breeding plumage and the legs and feet are orange. Female northern shovelers have a light brownish head with a blackish crown and a brownish speckled body. The upper wing coverts are grayish-blue, the greater secondary coverts are tipped with white and the secondaries are brown with a slight greenish sheen. The bill is olive green with fleshy orange in the gape area and speckled with black dots.

Northern Shoveler Range Map

Food Habits

Northern shovelers feed by dabbling and sifting in shallow water. Their unique bills are specialized to feed on invertebrates. Seeds of sedges, bulrushes, saw grass, smartweeds, pondweeds, algae and duckweeds, as well as aquatic insects, mollusks and crustaceans, are consumed by filtering water which is taken in at the bill tip and jetted out at the base.


Northern shoveler populations have remained fairly steady since 1955, but 2007 and 2009 brought peak numbers and the numbers have remained high, most likely due to favorable habitat conditions for breeding, migrating, and wintering northern shovelers (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).

Northern Shoveler Population

Migration and Wintering

Northern shovelers fly from the Prairie Pothole Region through the Pacific or Central Flyways, with major stopover areas in the Great Salt Lake, Malheur Basin and Carson Sink. They winter in California; coastal Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico; and the north and central highlands of Mexico. Wintering habitat includes fresh and brackish coastal marshes, and ponds. Saltwater wetlands are generally avoided. Northern shovelers are common winter visitors to Central America, the Caribbean and northern Colombia, and are found occasionally in Trinidad (Scott and Carbonell, 1986).