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What Is the Northern Shoveler?

The Northern Shoveler is a striking waterfowl known for its oversized, spoon-shaped bill, which it uses to sift food from water. Sporting vibrant plumage and engaging in fascinating migratory patterns, this duck is a marvel of avian adaptation. How does its unique bill shape benefit its survival? Join us as we uncover the secrets of this remarkable bird.
Lumara Lee
Lumara Lee

The northern shoveler is a medium-sized duck that can be found in different parts of the world including North America and the northern regions in Asia and Europe. This duck is also known as a shoveler and spoonbill because of its spatulate bill, the largest of any North American duck. The northern shoveler averages a length of around 19 inches (48 centimeters) at maturity, and a wingspan of about 30 inches (76 centimeters). Its weight at maturity ranges between 0.88 and 1.8 pounds (400 and 800 grams), with the males weighing more than the females. The scientific name of the northern spoonbill is Anas clypeata and it is a member of the anatidea family.

Spoonbills are dimorphic, which means there are noticeable differences between the two sexes. The male northern shoveler has an iridescent green head and a white chest with a brown belly and sides, while the female spoonbill has a much duller coloration consisting of different shades of brown. They are dabbling ducks, which means they tip upside down in the water to feed. The northern shoveler likes to inhabit shallow wetlands with muddy margins and eats underwater vegetation, seeds, aquatic insects, and snails. It slowly moves its head from side to side underwater to catch plankton in small, hair-like structures on its bill called lamellae that act like sieves.


Northern shovelers are monogamous and bond after the males perform a mating dance that consists of different bird calls, flapping wings, turns, and head dipping. The female northern shoveler lays clutches of 6-12 pale green eggs in a shallow area she scrapes in the ground. She typically chooses an area of short vegetation to build her nest.

The eggs take about four hours to hatch after an incubation period of around 22-26 days. When they first hatch, northern shoveler ducklings don’t have the distinctive, spoon-shaped bill. Their bills gradually assume the spatulate shape as they mature. The ducklings are able to leave the nest shortly after hatching, and the mother takes care of them for up to two months. A pair of northern shovelers only hatches one brood each year.

The northern shoveler is generally a peaceful duck that coexists with other types of ducks most of the time. During mating season, however, the male assertively defends its territory against other duck species. In winter, the northern shoveler migrates south, then returns in the spring to its northern territory.

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