People passionate about nature

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler photo by Rudolf Koes


How do I recognize it?

This duck is named for its outsized spatulate bill, which is used to strain food from the surface of ponds where it lives. The species is a bit smaller and more slender than a Mallard. Males have a green head, which may appear black in poor light, a white breast, rufous flanks and mostly black upperparts. In winter males lose the bright colours and look similar to females. Females are mottled brown, a good camouflage colour when the bird is incubating eggs. In flight both drake and hen show a large amount of pale blue on the upper wing-coverts. 

Does it migrate? 

North American shovelers spend the winter along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and from the southern United States south to Central America. Early migrants may arrive in Manitoba in late March, with the bulk of birds coming in April. The majority of birds will have left by late October. 


Northern Shoveler X Gadwall hybrid photo by Laurie Koepke


Where does it live?

In Manitoba Northern Shovelers can be found from the U.S. border to the Hudson Bay coast. They are most common on prairie lakes and potholes, but also in the Churchill area.

Where can I see it?

Any visit to appropriate habitat at the right time of year will turn up shovelers. Good places to find them are Oak Hammock Marsh, Delta Marsh, the Shoal Lakes complex, Whitewater Lake, the Kaleida Marshes and Hydro Road in Churchill.

Conservation Status.

The species is classified as Least Concern. Unlike populations of most North American bird species, populations of shovelers and ducks in general have increased in the last half-century. However, in recent years the trend has been downward, possibly due to habitat loss, with many small wetlands being drained or drying up during drought years.


Northern Shoveler photo by Rudolf Koes


Did you know?

Male fall migration is considerably earlier than that of females and young-of-the-year. Males attain breeding plumage much later in the year than many other duck species – often not until February.

Written by Rudolf Koes