Northern Shoveler: Waterfowl Wednesday

Waterfowl Wednesday is here again! Let’s talk about one of the most distinctive winter waterfowl in New Jersey: the Northern Shoveler.

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)


Northern Shoveler hen (female) and drake (male) (Image via

Northern Shovelers are large ducks with elongated, flat bills. Breeding males have iridescent green heads, white bodies, chestnut-colored flanks, yellow eyes, and black bills. In late summer ducks molt, meaning they shed their worn feathers. During molting ducks have what is called eclipse plumage. Eclipse plumage make the males (drakes) look more like the females. In eclipse plumage the drake is duller, with light brown flanks and brownish-black heads/breast speckled with tan or white. Their back are black with tan feather edges and they may have a white crescent behind their bills. Females are grayish-brown with brown eyes and olive-yellow bills. Immature Shovelers look similar to females.

male shoveler eclipse plumage
Male Northern Shoveler in eclipse plumage


Breeding: Alaska to Manitoba and south to New Mexico. Winters: Oregon and California and southern United States into Central America. Migration: Eastern United States and Canada


Breeds in shallow, open wetlands, prairies, and ponds. Winters in both saltwater and freshwater.


Norther Shovelers are dabblers. Dabblers like Northern Pintails and Mallards with lift their bottoms in the air while dabbling. However, Northern Shovelers use fine comb-like projections called lamellae on the edges of their bills to filter food from the water. While straining the water they will move their heads side to side. They eat mostly seeds and aquatic plants in winter and small invertebrates, mollusks, crustaceans, insects and small fish in the summer.

dabbling shovelers
Dabbling (Image by Julie Feinstein via


Norther Shovelers are monogamous and remain together longer than other ducks. Males with display by calling, dipping, turning, and flapping. Males will try to convince the female to follow him. Females will fly away with the male she chooses. Nest are located near water or in short grass and lined with down and vegetation. A female will lay between 8 and 12 eggs and incubate them for 21-27 days. Chicks will join their mother’s in the water with hours of hatching and fly within 52-60 days.


Low took-took quacks.

Fun Facts:

  • Shovelers have around 110 lamellae on their bills.
  • Northern Shovelers are related to Blue-winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals, and Green-winged Teals.
  • Male Shovelers keep their eclipse plumage until around February, which is longer than other duck species that breed in the fall.
  • Unlike other ducks, Northern Shovelers will reside on polluted, stagnant, or alkaline lakes.

Next week will be the last Waterfowl Wednesday for a little while. I started Waterfowl Wednesday to feature some of the winter visitors in New Jersey. Starting Monday, March 21, I will be posting “Migration Mondays”. This will feature some of the Spring migration visitors in my area.

Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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