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Northern Shoveler - BirdForum Opus

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Male (left) and female
Photo © by Steve G
The Flood, Vane Farm, Loch Leven, Scotland, UK, 03 April 2005
Spatula clypeata


Male moulting
Photo © by Alok Tewari
Keoladeo National Park, India, 17 December 2015

Length 43–56 cm (17-22 in), wingspan 70–85 cm, weight 400–1100 g

  • Bottle green head
  • Chestnut flanks
  • White breast
  • Very large black spatula shaped bill
  • In flight, pale blue forewing feathers are revealed, separated from the green speculum by a white border
  • Eclipse plumage (July to October) very similar to female (including in bill colour), but flanks more orangey and blue forewing retained
  • Post-eclipse (September to December) often develops a weak whitish forehead crescent resembling Australian Shoveler or even Blue-winged Teal in moult


  • Light brown
  • Grey forewing
  • Very large grey and orange spatula shaped bill

Similar Species

Flock in flight
Photo © by targetman
Lincolnshire 02 March 2009

Females, and males moulting out of eclipse, are very similar to females and full-plumage males respectively of Australian Shoveler; the two species do not normally overlap in distribution, but vagrant Northern are known in the range of Australian, and need great care in identification. The plumage of the female is also similar to that of a female Mallard, the bill being the major distinguishing feature.


Breeds across northern areas of Europe, Asia and most of North America between roughly 40° to 65°N latitude. It is largely migratory, wintering across more southern regions of these continents, and also in South America and Africa south to around 5° to 10°N latitude; small numbers winter as far north as Scotland and British Columbia where mild oceanic winters allow some overlap with the breeding range.

It is a vagrant south to central South America, Australia, and South Africa, and north to Svalbard; it has also been recorded on the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands, and several Pacific Ocean islands.


This is a monotypic species[1].

The Northern Shoveler has recently been transferred, along with several other related, mostly large-billed ducks, to the genus Spatula. These were all formerly placed in the genus Anas.


Marshlands and overgrown ponds. Rarely on the sea. Breeds in shallow, lowland, freshwater wetlands.


It is not as gregarious as some other dabbling ducks in the breeding season, usually only forming small parties, but huge flocks can occur in winter on suitable subtropical and tropical wetlands (e.g. 110,000 in the Marismas Nacionales in Nayarit, western Mexico[2]).

Complex courtship display, when groups of males will head-bob to females, and perform frequent noisy aerial chases after females.


Dabbling duck, uses bill to filter food. Will eat tiny crustaceans, insects as well as seed and plant matter.


The nest is a shallow depression on the ground, lined with plant material and down, usually close to water.


Fairly quiet except during courtship. Females a mallard-like quack. Males have an odd-sounding "shukk, shukk, shukk, shukk" when displaying and in aerial chases.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliot, and J Sargatal, eds. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8487334108
  3. Carboneras, C. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/52896 on 22 May 2019).
  4. Peterson, RT, G Mountfort and PAD Hollom. 1993. Collins Field Guide – Birds of Britain and Europe, 5th Revised edition. London: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0002199001
  5. Dubowy, P. J. (1996). Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.217

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