Bird of the Month July 2019

Northern Shoveler

Spatula clypeata


On the Bird List for Camas National Refuge, the Northern Shoveler is listed as common in spring, summer and fall. It is also one of the most recognizable birds in the marshes. The male is certainly distinctive with its iridescent green head, white chest, chestnut wings, black back, black bill and yellow eye. In flight, the male also shows green secondaries and a pale blue shoulder patch. The female, like most ducks, is much more nondescript—mottled gray-brown overall, orange bill and feet and with the pale blue shoulder patch that usually only shows in flight. What they have in common though, is an oversized bill, the top part of which is shaped like a spoon or spade and is very prominent. 

Behavior and Habitat

Using its large spoon-shaped bill, the Northern Shoveler busily forages head down in shallow wetlands. Its uniquely shaped bill has comblike projections, called lamellae, along its edges, which filter out tiny crustaceans and seeds from the water. As they swim around the edges of wetlands, they quickly shake their bills from side to side, capturing tiny prey. Sometimes you can see them swim in circles to stir up the bottom sediments and release prey. Northern Shovelers are fairly social ducks except during the breeding season when they chase off other ducks.

Although Northern Shovelers are mostly monogamous, like other ducks, the males do not help with brood rearing. The female will create a shallow nest on the ground, line it with down and lay between 10 and 12 eggs. The young will hatch fully covered with down and ready to follow mama shortly after hatching.

Similar Species

Although the Northern Shoveler’s bill is quite distinctive, the green head of the male may fool you for a moment into thinking that you are looking at a mallard drake. The white chest is a dead giveaway though, even if you can’t see the bill. There really aren’t any other ducks in our area that you can confuse a Northern Shoveler with.


When and where found at Camas NWR

Look for Northern Shovelers in any of the wetlands on the Refuge. Pay particular attention to the edges of rush lined ponds where you may see them busily foraging by sweeping those shovel-like bills from side to side. They have a tendency to use smaller ponds and more stagnant waters than other dabbling ducks so don’t overlook these small habitat patches.


“Northern Shovelers are common and their populations were stable between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird SurveyPartners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 4.5 million. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List and is a species of low conservation concern. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carefully manages duck hunting, and limits the number of individuals hunters can take every year based on population size. From 2012–2016, hunters have taken an average of 705,533 Northern Shovelers per year.”

Text by Terry Thomas. Source:

Photo by Terry Thomas.