Size: 17" long by 6" wide by 5-1/2" high
Common Names: shoveler, spoonbill, spoony.
With their distinct shovel-shaped bill, Northern shovelers are easy to distinguish from other dabbling ducks in North America. They use their unique bill to strain small invertebrates and seeds from the water by taking water in at the tip of their bill and jetting it out at the side by using their tongue.
Shovelers are a medium sized dabbling duck. Males are about 50cm long and weigh between 550 and 800g. Females are slightly smaller measuring an average of 45cm long and weighing 400-600g. Their large, flattened bill is their most distinguishing feature.
Males have a bold color pattern of green head, white breast and chestnut belly and flanks. Females are a much more subdued being an overall dull brownish color. Both males and females have a large blue wing patch on their forewing. This is similar to the blue-winged and cinnamon teal, but these ducks are much smaller than shovelers.
During breeding season, shovelers are found throughout western North America and locally in eastern North America. Their main breeding range is concentrated in the prairie pothole and parklands of Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, North Dakota and Montana.
Winter months finds shovelers in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Principle wintering areas include California, the Gulf coast of Louisiana and Texas and the coastal and interior marshes of Mexico.
Shovelers like open, shallow wetlands with submergant vegetation during the breeding season. They prefer these wetlands to be in tall-grass prairie, short-grass prairie, sagebrush or aspen parkland with nearby grasslands for nesting.
In winter, shovelers have a wide range of habitats. These can include freshwater and saline marshes, industrial cooling ponds, agriculture wastewater ponds or any shallow, open lakes that have dense aquatic vegetation. Unlike other dabbling ducks, the shoveler does not feed out of the water.
Shovelers eat small swimming invertebrates and seeds.
Pair bonds are usually formed on the wintering grounds, but later than other dabbling ducks.
Shovelers are one of the last dabbling ducks to start nesting in the spring. In Manitoba, nesting starts around early May, peaking in late May.
Nest site selection and construction is done by the hen. Nests start out as a shallow depression scraped in the ground, generally in areas of short vegetation.
Hens lay one egg a day until about 9-10 eggs are laid. Incubation length increases slowly during egg laying and becomes full time once the clutch is complete, except for short recesses to eat and drink. One to two days before hatching the ducklings will start vocalizing. Once hatching starts, it takes about 4 hours. Ducklings are led from the nest, usually shortly after dawn. Ducklings can walk and feed themselves from the time they hatch.
Conservation and Management
Northern shoveler populations appear stable and possibly increasing. However, they are susceptible to loss of habitat in the prairies and their wintering grounds, just as other dabbling ducks are.