Beak of the Week – Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)

Family: Anatidae

By Carrie Chapin, Houston Audubon Conservation Technician

The Northern Shoveler is a unique species of dabbling duck found in wetlands across much of the world, including North America, Central America, Europe, parts of Africa, and Asia. Northern Shovelers breed in Alaska, Canada, the northern U.S., and Russia. During the fall and winter, they expand their range southward to include the southern U.S. and Mexico. 

The Northern Shoveler is a unique species of teal and is most easily identified by its oversized bill adapted for sifting small crustaceans from the water column. They often swim in tight circles to stir up crustaceans from deeper underwater. Northern Shovelers are slightly smaller than mallards but much larger than the dainty green-winged teal. Breeding males have a green head, black bill, chestnut side patch, yellow eyes, white breast and rear, and a blue and green patch on each wing. Female Northern Shovelers are brown with white accents and are best identified by their large orange bills and legs. Nonbreeding males have a washed-out chestnut patch on the side and a black bill. 

Northern Shovelers choose mates by mid-January and are the most territorial of all North American dabbling duck species. By mid-April, the female makes the nest and lays 9-11 olive-colored eggs. The nest comprises a simple down-lined bowl made within short vegetation near water. Incubation lasts between 22 and 27 days. Shortly after birth, the precocial (relatively mature and mobile) young are led by the female to the body of water and begin feeding themselves. The young fledge between 36 and 45 days later. 

Northern Shovelers are just beginning to come back to the area this year. The Bolivar Flats and various wetlands along the Bolivar Peninsula are great places to see this unique duck species!

 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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