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Northern Shoveler

Spatula clypeata

Length: 17 to 20 inches Wingspan: 27 to 33 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant

Identification Keys MALES:  Distinctive large flattened (black) bill, greenish black head, rusty sides and belly, white breast.  

Identification Keys FEMALES: Distinctive flattened (orange) bill, buffy overall, pale edges on slightly darker feathers on the back.

Northern Shoveler - Spatula clypeataThe Northern Shoveler are a widespread dabbling duck species found not only in North America, but also in Europe, Asia, and Africa.  A large duck with bold plumage patterns on a male, it's their unique spatulate bill that makes the species stand out.  Northern Shovelers use that large flattened bill to strain water for small aquatic plants and animals, as the bill has comb-like structures along the edge for filtering.  They are one of the most common duck species in South Dakota, breeding throughout the state and found in large numbers in migration as well.


Ponds, lakes, and marshes.  In the summer breeding season in the state, they nest in upland habitats, usually short grass areas with shallow water nearby.  During migration and in winter they will use a wider variety of habitats, including brackish and near coastal waters.


Omnivorous.  Summer eats mix of aquatic plants, grasses, insects, crustaceans, small fish, and seeds.  Winter diet is primarily seeds and plant material.


Forages by swimming slowly with bill submerged just below the surface.  Food items are gathered by filtering water through the unique bill.  Unlike some other dabbling ducks, they rarely will feed on land.


May through July.  The nest of a Northern Shoveler is a shallow depression on the ground, lined with grasses and weeds with an inner layer of down.  The female usually lays 8 to 12 eggs, and she alone incubates them.  The young leave the nest soon after hatching, and find their own food.  The female tends to them and protects them until they learn to fly at about 8 weeks.


Male took, took during mating. Females have a duck-like (surprising!) quacking sound.


Summers throughout much of western Canada and the western half of the United States, and locally around the Great Lakes.  Winters in the southern U.S. and along the coasts, as well as Mexico. In South Dakota they are common both during the summer breeding months, and in migration.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Northern Shoveler sightings

Similar Species:

With the unique plumage, a male Northern Shoveler is unlikely to be confused with another species if seen well. However, them much plainer females can potentially be confused with other duck species:

Mallard 18 - Anas platyrhynchos Blue-winged Teal 2 - Spatula discors Green-winged Teal 3 - Anas crecca Gadwall - Mareca strepera
Mallard (pair) Blue-winged Teal (female) Green-winged Teal Gadwall (pair)

Conservation Status:

Observations from Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey data show that Northern Shovelers may be declining in recent decades. While one of many duck species hunted in North America, it's primarily habitat loss that's behind local declines. Overall however, Northern Shovelers are found a very broad geographic area, and they are common in many parts of their range.  The IUCN currently lists the Northern Shoveler as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

April 4th, 2020 -- Western Minnehaha County -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Northern Shoveler photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - Northern Shoveler
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident and migrant throughout most of the state.  Rare in winter.

Additional Northern Shoveler Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
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