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The Unusual Northern Shoveler

Updated on August 13, 2015
Male Northern Shoveler
Male Northern Shoveler | Source

Why is This Duck So Unusual?

The Northern Shoveler is one of the most unusual looking ducks that I have ever seen, due to the fact that it has the biggest bill in North America. As a matter of fact, the bill is longer than its head, which gives it an overpoweringly heavy front look. The males and females are easy to distinguish, and both have bright orange legs and feet, if you get to see them.

Many times, these ducks will swim with the head held low and the bill partially submerged, straining the water for small aquatic plants and crustaceans. They possess comblike teeth along the sides of their spatulate bills.

Male(bottom) and female(top) Northern Shovelers
Male(bottom) and female(top) Northern Shovelers | Source

Courtship/Nesting Facts

I have noticed in their courtship song that the male will utter a who-who-who, or took-took-took. The female will reply with a feeble quack and a descending WACK-WAck-wack-wack-wa-wa.

The nest is partially filled with dry grass and weeds, lined with down and close to water in the area of short grasses. It can sometimes even be on high, dry prairie grounds, quite a distance from the water. The female will build this nest and if flushed off it, she often defecates on the eggs, apparently to deter predators.

Male Northern Shoveler
Male Northern Shoveler | Source

Not Many Know That...

Males exhibit elaborate courtship behavior, including various calls, turns, dips, and wing flaps. These ducks are monogamous and solitary nesters. The precocial young leave the nest within a few hours of hatching, and are tended by the female. They are additionally migratory and weigh roughly 1.4 pounds.


Interesting Facts

The oldest Northern Shoveler was 18 years and 7 months. If a bird is brought into a treatment facility, it is Federally banded. This is how the information is gleaned on the age of the various birds that I have given you in prior articles, so if you should find a deceased bird, call the number on the aluminum band around the bird's leg. You will be asked where you found it, as many of these birds can travel thousands of miles from where they were originally banded. This information is put into a database, so it can be located at any time, as naturalists like myself can learn things about birds, especially the age at death and where they have been.

Female Northern Shoveler
Female Northern Shoveler | Source

For you philatelists, these teal relatives have appeared a couple of times on duck stamps. The 1945-46 Federal design by Owen Gromme, and on the 1982 Nevada state stamp by Richard Timm.

These ducks are also known as spoonbills.


The shoveler isn't much of a conversationalist, even by duck standards. The most common sound heard by both male and female is that of the water being pulled through the bill as the ducks feed. It can actually be heard from quite a distance.


Flight Information

There are three additional shoveler species worldwide, the Cape Shoveler; Australasian Shoveler; and Red Shoveler.

These ducks also hybridize with several other species, including Blue-Winged Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Pintail, and Wood Duck.

See the Northern Shoveler in Flight!

Flight Information

The ducklings will fledge(leave the nest) in roughly two months. The adult male has molted and regained his powers of flight by the time that the ducklings are enjoying flight capabilities. During this time, the female is in postnupial molt and is flightless. By September, the entire family is flying. The shoveler has been clocked at 53 mph without the duck exerting itself. If really pushing it, it could likely experience 60 to 65 mph, and even better with a good tailwind(pardon the pun!).


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    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Peg! They really are striking birds, and I adore their coloring.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      3 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      What an interesting bird these Shovelers are. I enjoyed reading about their nesting habits and their migration also about how long it takes the young ones to develop flight. I've heard them called spoonbills before. Nice write-up.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Joyce. What kind of duck did you have there? Do you know what it was called?

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 

      6 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Great to all about this Shovel Duck. His big bill is pretty funny.

      He looks similar to a duck I used to see in England.

      Vote up and interesting, Joyce.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, molometer. What am I going to do when I run out of birds?

    • molometer profile image


      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      What an interesting read. I have never heard of, or seen these unusual northern shoveler ducks. What an unusual bill they have perfect for their feeding method.

      Thanks for sharing and the video was interesting too.

      Voted up and interesting. tweeted.


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