Aptly nicknamed the spoonbill, the northern shoveler has the largest bill of any duck in North America. The bill is this bird's most prominent feature, and is longer than its head.
Northern Shoveler, Shoveler, Spoonbill
- Bill: Broad, spatulate
- Size: 18 inches long with 30-inch wingspan, large bill
- Colors: Black, iridescent green, white, chestnut, brown, orange, powder blue
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a black head that shows iridescent green in good light. The breast is white while the abdomen and flanks are chestnut. The dark back shows some brown mottling and white streaking. The black rump may also show iridescent green. The bill is black. Females are mottled brown overall with darker upperparts and a faint dark eye line. The bill is grayish-orange. Both genders have yellow eyes, bright orange legs and feet and an iridescent green speculum and powder blue wing patch visible in flight.
Aquatic plants, aquatic insets, mollusks
Habitat and Migration:
These ducks prefer freshwater lakes, marshes and wetlands with muddy edges. Their summer range extends from Alaska through western and central Canada south to the mountain regions of Colorado and northern New Mexico and as far east as the St. Lawrence River and Massachusetts Bay. In winter, northern shovelers migrate to the Pacific coast and the southern United States, as well as into the Caribbean, Mexico and northern South America. These birds can be found year-round in parts of the mountain west, including Utah, southern Idaho and eastern Oregon and Washington.
Northern shovelers are found in similar habitats and ranges in Europe and Asia, migrating to Africa and southeast Asia in winter.
These ducks are not very vocal, though males do use different calls as part of their courtship behavior. Typical calls include a slow, nasal bray with only a few syllables, as well as a noisy rattle upon takeoff.
Northern shovelers are typically found in pairs or alone during the breeding season, but can gather in much larger flocks mixed with other types of ducks, particularly teal, during the winter. This is a dabbling duck but it rarely tips up to feed, and instead skims its broad bill along the surface of the water to strain insects and plants through the lamellae that line the edges of the bill.
These are monogamous ducks and mate after a courtship display that includes different calls, wing flapping and head dipping. The female parent incubates a brood of 5-20 eggs for 22-26 days, and the precocial young can leave the nest within hours of hatching. The female parent will care for the young ducklings and lead them to food for an additional 40-65 days until their first flight. Mated pairs of northern shovelers only raise one brood per year.
Attracting Northern Shovelers:
Like all ducks, the northern shoveler is not a typical backyard bird. Birders interested in seeing this brightly patterned bird, however, can visit a variety of shallow marshlands where insecticide use is minimal and wetland edges are allowed to erode to produce mud and weeds for these ducks to forage.