Northern Shoveler

Common Name: Northern Shoveler

Class:  Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

Genus: Anas

Species: Anas clypeata

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Taxonomy/Description

The Northern Shoveler is a duck included in the family Anatidae.  This family is made up of ducks and duck-like waterfowl.  The members of this family share adaptations to life on the water including webbed feet, flattened bills, and feathers with special oils to prevent water absorption.  Its Latin name, Anas clypeata, is translated to mean “shield-bearing duck.”  This refers to the white on a male’s chest that resembles a shield.  The Northern Shoveler is a dichromatic species.  This means that the male and female have difference physical appearances.  In the breeding season, the male Northern Shoveler displays an iridescent green head, a yellow eye, a white chest, and chestnut colored sides. It also has a green speculum, white tail, and black bill.  When it is not the breeding season, the male is more mottled with a brown colored head.  The female Northern Shoveler has a mottled appearance with a brown iris, a green speculum, a white tail, and a yellow bill that is black near the tip.  Both the male and female have orange legs and feet and are easily distinguished from other ducks by their large, wide, spoon-shaped bill.         

Habitat/Diet

The Northern Shoveler can be found in shallow marshes, ponds, and wetlands.  During the breeding season, it is dependent on open grasslands near shallow bodies of water.  Prairie potholes provide this duck with an ideal habitat for nesting.  The Northern Shoveler ranges from Alaska to California, Nebraska, and Wisconsin in the breeding season.  Some local breeding populations can also be found in New York.  It winters along the east coast from New Jersey southward, the west coast from Oregon southward, and throughout the southern portion of the United States.  The Northern Shoveler also migrates as far south as Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. 

Behavior/Reproduction

The Northern Shoveler is a dabbling duck.  This means that it feeds by inverting its body on the surface of the water instead of diving.  The duck primarily moves by swimming or flying, but it is also an agile walker.  The Northern Shoveler male is territorial during the breeding where it can spend up to ninety percent of its time defending its area.  The predators of the duck and its nest include the Red Fox, Mink, and American Crow.  The Northern Shoveler is mostly a monogamous species with pairs forming late in the season on the wintering grounds.  However, if there is an opportunity, the male will mate with a second female.  The nest is a scrape in the ground about two centimeters deep.  The hole is filled with down and other vegetation.  The female will lay nine to twelve pale olive buff to green-gray eggs.  The hatchlings will follow their mother from the nest the dawn after hatching.  The female stays with her young until they fledge. 

Where to see them in WNY

The Northern Shoveler can be found in WNY during their migration in the spring and fall.  Northern Shoveler migration usually peaks around April in the spring and September in the fall.  During these times, look for the Northern Shoveler in marshes and wetlands.  Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to search for these fascinating birds. 

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