Named for its large, shovel-shaped bill, the Northern Shoveler is a medium-sized (17-20 inches) duck better known to duck hunters as the “spoonbill.” While the male Northern Shoveler’s green head may cause some to confuse it with the more ubiquitous Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), a positive identification may be made by looking for chestnut flanks and a white breast, a pattern which is opposite that of the male Mallard. The drab-brown females of both species are also easily confused, but the female Northern Shoveler retains the species’ characteristic bill shape and smaller size. Northern Shovelers occur across the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, this species breeds primarily from west-central Alaska east to the Hudson Bay, and from just south of the tundra in Canada south to the upper Great Plains. Recently, this species has expanded eastward, and smaller breeding areas may be encountered along the Great Lakes, around the St. Lawrence River, and in the Maritime Provinces in eastern Canada. This species migrates south for the winter, where it may be found along the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts of the U.S., in the interior in the southern half of the country, and points south. In Eurasia, this species breeds in northern Europe and Russia, wintering south to sub-Saharan Africa, India, and the Philippines. The Northern Shoveler breeds in shallow wetlands (and, increasingly, on sewage-treatment ponds) throughout its breeding range. Preferring freshwater in summer, this species is less constrained in winter, when it may be found in freshwater or saltwater marshes. Northern Shovelers feed primarily on small invertebrates and seeds. Northern Shovelers rarely forage on land, and are most easily seen on the water using their bills to strain the water for food. This species may also be observed undertaking straight, swift flights on migration or between breeding or foraging grounds. Northern Shovelers are most active during the day.
Fairly common migrant and winter resident from late August to early May. Found in shallow ponds and marshes. The head of the male is dark green, the female's dull brown.
The birds in this exhibit are a male in breeding plumage (left), a male in non-breeding plumage (center) and a female on the right. Males have black bills. Females have lighter bills, sometimes described as olive green with small dark spots, but also appearing to be orange, with or without spots apparent in current imagaes. All have the unique bill shape that gives the bird its common name.