12 Interesting Facts about the Northern Shoveler


I often look at the Northern Shoveler and wonder how that wild bill works during flight. Do you suppose they can use it like a rudder, or perhaps like the flaps on an airplane? This was another duck that popped my eyes open once I started making trips to the marsh. Who wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing one of these ducks up close, especially the male with its distinctive markings?

Here are a few things that I have learned about the Northern Shoveler.

  • Northern Shovelers are unmistakable in the northern hemisphere due to their large spatulate bill.
  • Northern Shovelers are a bird of open wetlands, such as wet grassland or marshes.
  • Northern Shovelers are a fairly quiet species. The male has a clunking call, whereas the female has a Mallard-like quack.
  • Northern Shovelers feed by dabbling for plant food, often by swinging its bill from side to side and using the bill to strain food from the water.
  • The Northern Shoveler’s wide-flat bill is equipped with well-developed lamellae – small, comb-like structures on the edge of the bill that act like sieves, allowing the birds to skim crustaceans and plankton from the water’s surface. 

  • Northern Shovelers occasionally work together in groups while feeding, rotating like a pin-wheel, stirring up the surface water and skimming it for food particles.
  • The Shoveler prefers to nest in grassy areas away from open water. Their nest is a shallow depression on the ground, lined with plant material and down.
  • Northern Shoveler hens typically lay approximatly nine eggs.
  • Northern Shoveler drakes are very territorial during breeding season and will defend their territory and partners from competing males.
  • Northern Shoveler drakes also engage in elaborate courtship behaviors, both on the water and in the air; it is not uncommon for a dozen or more males to pursue a single hen.
  • Northern Shovelers are not as gregarious as some other dabbling ducks outside the breeding season and tend to form only small flocks.
  • Among North America’s duck species, northern shovelers trail only mallards and blue-winged teal in overall abundance. Their populations have been healthy since the 1960s, and have soared in recent years to more than 4 million birds (2011), most likely because of favorable breeding, migration, and wintering habitat conditions

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