This species is unmistakable in the northern hemisphere due to its large spatulate bill. The breeding drake has an iridescent dark green head, white breast and chestnut belly and flanks. In flight, pale blue forewing feathers are visible, separated from the green speculum by a white border. In early fall the male will have a white crescent on each side of the face. Non breeding the drakes resemble the female. The female is a drab mottled brown like other dabblers, with plumage like a female Mallard, but distinguished by the long broad bill, which is gray tinged with orange on cutting edge. Her forewing is gray. They are 48 cm (19 in) long, having a wingspan of 76 cm (30 in) with a weight of 600 g.

Habitat and Distribution

It breeds in northern areas of Europe and Asia and across most of North America, wintering in southern Europe, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Central, and northern South America. In North America, it breeds along the southern edge of Hudson Bay and west of this body of water. Mud-bottomed marshes rich in invertebrate life are their habitat of choice. This is a bird of open wetlands, such as wet grassland or marshes with emergent vegetation.


Northern Shovelers feed by dabbling for plant food, often by swinging its bill from side to side and using the bill to strain food from the water. They forage for aquatic invertebrates.


The Shoveler prefers to nest in grassy areas away from open water. Their nest is a shallow depression on the ground, lined with plant material and down. Hens typically lay about nine eggs. The drakes are very territorial during breeding season and will defend their territory and partners from competing males.

Calls and Songs

This is a fairly quiet species. The male has a clunking call, whereas the female has a Mallard-like quack.