Return to Easily Identify Dabbling Ducks   


Spatula clypeata

Dabbling Ducks Family

Waterfowl Identification

Male Shoveler
Female Shoveler
Similar Waterfowl:
Perhaps the most visible diagnostic characteristic of the shoveler is its large, spoon shaped bill, which widens towards the tip and creates a shape unique among North American waterfowl. Male shovelers have an iridescent green head and neck, white chest and breast, and chestnut belly and sides. They have a white stripe extending from the breast along the margin of the gray-brown back, and white flank spots. The wings have a gray-blue shoulder patch, which is separated from a brilliant green speculum by a tapered white stripe. The bill is black in breeding plumage and the legs and feet are orange Female shovelers have a light brownish head with a blackish crown, and a brownish speckled body. The upper wing coverts are grayish-blue, the greater secondary coverts are tipped with white, and the secondaries are brown with a slight greenish sheen. The bill is olive-green, with fleshy-orange in the gape area, and speckled with black dots.
Typical Size:
The male and female average 19 inches in length and weigh 1 1/4 pounds. They have a wingspan of 31 inches.
Habitats include fresh and brackish coastal marshes, and ponds. Saltwater wetlands are generally avoided.
Shovelers breed in the parklands, short and mixed-grass prairies of Canada, and the grasslands of the north central USA. They prefer shallow marshes that are mud-bottomed and rich in invertebrate life. Nest sites are generally located on the ground in grassy areas lacking woody cover and away from open water. Female northern shovelers lay an average of 9 eggs.
Shovelers feed by dabbling and sifting in shallow water. Seeds of sedges, bulrushes, saw grass, smartweeds, pondweeds, algae, and duckweeds, also aquatic insects, mollusks, and crustaceans are consumed by filtering water which is taken in at the bill tip and jetted out at the base.
Shovelers fly from the prairie pothole region through the Pacific or Central Flyway, with major stopover areas in the Great Salt Lake, Malheur Basin, and Carson Sink. They winter in California, coastal Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico, and the north and central highlands of Mexico. Shovelers are common winter visitor to Central America
Flyway Patterns:
Shovelers are most commonly found in the Pacific and Central flyways.
Flight Formation:
Small flocks with slow steady flight unless startled, then they will fly erratically. Shoveler's reach a speed of 50 MPH
Males have a low WHO-WOGH and females have a feeble QUACK.

Shoveler Flight and Plumage Characteristics

This guide will help you recognize shovelers on the wing - it emphasizes their fall and winter plumage patterns as well as size, shape, and flight characteristics. Shovelers, often called spoonbills, migrate early generally moving out at the first frost. Most use the Central and Pacific flyways and their flight is usually direct and steady. Similar to teal, the small flocks twist and turn in the air when startled. Because one third of the usual diet is animal matter, they are not highly regarded as table birds. Drakes call woh-woh and took-took and the hen's quack is feeble.