Northern Shoveler – Spatula clypeata


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Anseriformes
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Genre: Spatula
  • Species: Spatula clypeata

Identification characters

The Northern Shoveler is a medium-sized duck species, with an adult body length of 44-52 cm,
and a wingspan of 73-83 cm. The average weight is 410-1100 g. Sexual dimorphism is pronounced.
The male is brightly coloured, with a green head that is black when seen from a distance, chest and
white lateral outline, chestnut central flanks, black back and bottom, dark blue mirror.
The female has an overall brownish, mottled coloration, perfect for camouflage during the hatching period, and the mirror is green. Juveniles are similar to the adult female, but have darker crest and dorsal side of neck, and lighter coloured abdomen. An important identifying feature of the spoonbill in both sexes is the large, long, broad, spoon-like beak, hence the duck’s name.


The Northern Shoveler is a predominantly migratory species. Its range covers most of the northern hemisphere, from the subarctic to the tropics: Europe, Asia, North America, northern and central Africa, northern South America. The majority of the European population winters in southern Europe, Asia Minor and northern Africa. In Europe the breeding population is 170 000 – 233 000 pairs.
In Romania it can be found all year round in most low-lying water areas. In winter, the smallest numbers are recorded. The main wintering areas are south of Romania. The largest numbers are recorded during migration periods. Relatively localised breeding, especially in Dobrogea, Muntenia, Oltenia, Moldova and Banat. Does not nest in the Danube Delta.
The breeding population in Romania is estimated at between 15 and 150 pairs. A much higher number is recorded during the passage (50,000 – 100,000) and between 10 and 2,301 individuals winter in the country.

Living environment and biology of the species

The preferred habitat of the Northern Shoveler is temperate with open areas, meadows and steppe areas. It can be found in all aquatic habitats with shallow but permanent, productive water, rich aquatic vegetation, bordered by reeds or sedges. Much more rarely the species can be found in waters bordered by forests and tree stands or in brackish waters.
In Romania, in the passage and in winter, the largest populations are found in low-saline lakes. It can also be found in ponds, rice paddies and artificial lakes.
It is generally a migratory species. Sedentary or short-distance migrant populations are less common. It migrates earlier than other duck species, leaving for wintering grounds in September-October. Returns to nesting grounds by early May.
Usually active during the day. Diet is omnivorous, consisting of aquatic insects, small crustaceans, molluscs, seeds and various plant debris. It obtains food from the surface of the water, using its beak, which specialises in filtering water. Sometimes swims in circles to create a small whirlpool that brings food to the surface. Outside of the nesting season, Mergansers gather in flocks of up to several hundred individuals.
During the nesting season they display a pronounced territorial behaviour.
They nest from April or May, with a more discreet courtship ritual than other duck species. For breeding, it chooses shallow wetlands, such as eutrophic lakes rich in submerged vegetation, surrounded by large patches of reeds or extensive reed beds. The nest is located close to water, in damp tall grass pastures, less often in reed beds. Lays 9-11 yellowish-white or greenish eggs. Incubation is 21-25 days. The female hatches the eggs and nurses the young. It is the male that usually defends the territory during the nesting period. A few hours after hatching, the chicks leave the nest and start swimming after the mother in the water.

Threats and conservation measures

The Northern Shoveler duck is threatened by habitat loss and alteration, pollution and management
and sometimes by hunting, although it is not a species of major concern in this respect.
It is recommended to respect restrictions in riparian and coastal areas, to maintain the marsh vegetation at an ecologically optimal level, to manage waste and wastewater in the area of important habitats for the species, to use selective and low-toxicity agrochemicals, to avoid the use of treated seeds in the vicinity of wetlands, and to manage water levels in reservoirs according to the needs of the species, building islands to reduce the risk of predation and to help the species breed in artificial or semi-natural wetlands, banning hunting and controlling poaching, limiting the use of fishing nets to prevent birds from being caught accidentally, inventorying breeding areas, identifying migration, feeding and crowding areas important to the species, promoting studies on the biology of the species.


  • Fântână Ciprian, Kovács Istvan, Benkő Zoltán, Daròczi Szilárd, Domșa Cristian, Veres-Szászka Judit (editori), 2022, Atlas al speciilor de păsări de interes comunitar din România, ediția a II-a – Iubește păsările, salvează natura!, Proiect finanțat din Fondul European de Dezvoltare Regională prin Programul Operațional Infrastructură Mare 2014-2020, Ministerul Mediului, Apelor și Pădurilor- Direcția Biodiversitate, coordonare științifică Societatea Ornitologică Română și Asociația pentru Protecția Păsărilor și a Naturii Grupul Milvus, produs de EXCLUS PROD SRL, p. 40-41;
  • Svensson (text și hărți), 2017, Ghid pentru identificarea păsărilor. Europa și zona mediteraneană, traducerea și adaptarea în limba română: Societatea Ornitologică română, Emanuel Ștefan Baltag, Sebastian Bugariu, Alida Barbu, p.26;
  • Radu Dimitrie, 1983, Mic atlas ornitologic – Păsările lumii, Editura Albatros, București, p. 76;
  • Ornitodata | Raţă lingurar (
Follow Us