Males weigh 17 to 38 ounces(470 to 1000g) and their wingspans are usually around 31 inches(227 to 251mm). Females are 17 to 28 ounces(470 to 800g). Northern Shovelers are sexually dimorphic. The males head, neck, and speculum are iridescent green, their chests are white, and the remaining underparts are a bright chestnut. The females are mainly a pattern of buffs and browns. Both sexes have pale blue inner forewings and orange-yellow legs and feet. The most distinctive feature is their large spatulate bill. It is twice as wide at the tip than it is at the base. This uniquely shaped bill gives rise to Northern Shovelers also being called "spoonbills". The ducklings hatch with a typical duckbill that enlarges as the duckling matures. (Goodes and Boyer, 1986; Todd, 1979)
Northern shovelers has a very broad geographical range. They breed throughout Eurasia and western North America. They are also found in the Great Lakes region of the eastern United States. In winter various populations migrate south to specific locations, scattered throughout north-east Africa, India, Southern China and Japan to Mexico and southern North America.
During the breeding season, Northern Shovelers are found in shallow pools and marshes that have good cover and dry areas nearby for nesting. In the winter they can be found near freshwater marshes, swamps, and flooded areas. (Johnsgard 1965.)
Breeding usually takes place from April until June. Nests are made on dry land close to fresh water and they are built of grasses and lined with down feathers. The female builds the nest by forming a neat cup by twisting her body on the ground. She lays between 9 and 11 eggs. The eggs are olive colored and 52x37mm. Incubation by the female alone begins immediately after all the eggs are laid and can last 23 to 25 days. (Dobkin, Ehrlich and Wheye, 1988.) (Soothill and Whitehead, 1978.)
The male loses interest soon after incubation starts. The ducklings are born precocial and start following the female almost immediately. Feeding practices and locations are learned during this time. They young can fly after 40 to 45 days and are then independent.
Northern Shovelers stay in small groups of up to twenty, but they may travel in larger numbers during migration. They are quiet birds that tolerate human presence and can be relatively tame. (Todd, 1979.)
A Northern Shoveler feeds mainly by drawing water into its bill and then pumping it out through the sides with their tongue, filtering out minute food particles with long comb-like lamellae that line the edge of the bill. The particles mainly consist of tiny crustaceans, molluscs, insects, and their larvae as well as seeds and pieces of leaves and stems of plants. In addition to the food particles they also eat water beetles, small minnows, and snails. Social feeding is common. The shovelers are drawn to feeding areas by other birds feeding in an area. Shovelers take advantage of the food particles churned to the surface by the other birds swimming or wading in the area. Single birds may swim in a tight circle to create a whirlpool to cause food to come to the surface. Shovelers are also known to upend or dabble, usually for lengthier periods than other surface feeders, and also dive using their wings to swim underwater in shallow marshes. (Gooders and Boyer, 1986, Johnsgard, 1969, Todd, 1979)
Northern Shovelers are a game bird. Hunters often shoot them due to their resemblance to mallards. They are often referred to as "neighbor's mallards," because some hunters give them to their neighbors and keep the more tasty mallards for themselves. (Todd, 1979.)
The population in North America appears to be increasing. (Todd, 1979,) (Wcmc.org, July 10, 2000.) This species is protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.
Northern Shovelers are very popular with aviculturists, are rather easy to propagate, and can be found in almost any waterfowl collection. (Todd 1979.)
Kelly Johnson (author), Fresno City College, Carl Johansson (editor), Fresno City College.
1999. "United States Endangered Species Act" (On-line). Accessed July10, 2000 at http://www.wcmc.org.UK.
Dobkin, E., D. Wheye. 1988. The Birder’s Handbook. Simon and Schuster Inc.
Farrand, J. 1988. An Audubon Handbook Western Birds. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
Gooders, J., T. Boyer. 1986. Ducks of North America and the Northern Hemisphere. New York, N.Y.: Dragon's World.
Johnsgard, P. 1965. Handbook of Waterfowl Behavior. Cornell University.
Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1983. A Guide to Field Identification. Racine, Wisconsin: Western Publishing Company, Inc..
Soothill, E., P. Whitehead. 1978. Wildfowl of the World. Blanford Press Ltd..
Todd, F. 1979. Waterfowl, Ducks, Geese, and Swans of the World. Seaworld Inc..