HABITAT:shallow, marshy ponds and wetlands
DIET: HERBIVOREseeds and aquatic invertebrates
LENGTH:17–20 in (44–51 cm)
WEIGHT:14–29 oz (400–820 g)
“Where I live”
Northern shovelers are worldly ducks. They breed across huge swaths of northern North America, Europe, and Asia, and winter in such far-flung places as the U.S., the Mediterranean basin, and India. In North America, northern shovelers winter along the Pacific, Gulf, and south Atlantic coasts, and throughout Mexico and into Central America. They often are seen on the Chesapeake Bay in winter.
“How I live there”
During breeding season, northern shovelers prefer shallow prairie marshes. In winter, they are seen in brackish coastal marshes and ponds. They are dabbling ducks, but they do not often tip head and body into water to forage. Instead, they mostly swim along with their bills lowered in the water and strain food from the surface. Their bills have unique comb-like structures that allow them to sift food from soft mud and the water’s surface. They eat aquatic insects, mollusks, and crustaceans, as well as the seeds of sedges, bulrushes, saw grass, smartweeds, pondweeds, algae, and duckweeds.
“Making my mark”
When forced off her nest, a northern shoveler female will often defecate on her eggs, presumably to deter predators.
“What eats me”
There are many species of mammal, reptile, and bird that prey upon eggs and ducklings of waterfowl species. The list of predators varies by species and by where that species lives, but the list of prevalent waterfowl predators in North America includes red fox, raccoon, owls, hawks, large gulls, mink, weasels, skunks, coyotes, and crows.
When trying to attract a mate, male northern shovelers engage in elaborate courtship displays, including calls, turns, dips, and wing flaps. Males and females usually arrive on their breeding grounds later than many other species of duck, and are usually already paired up. Females may spend several weeks searching for a nest site while males establish territories. Male northern shovelers form particularly strong pair bonds and usually remain with their mates through incubation, although only the females do the incubating. Females make their nests on the ground some distance away from water, usually in short vegetation that offers some but not great protection. They lay clutches of 8-12 eggs and incubate them for 21-28 days. Once the ducklings hatch, only the mother cares for them. She leads them to water within hours of hatching, where they can immediately swim and forage. Juveniles fledge anywhere from 36 to 50 days.
Northern shoveler populations have steadily increased over the past few decades and are now considered stable. They are given a conservation listing of “least concern” by the IUCN, the world’s leading conservation organization.