Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

Also known as: Northern shoveler
  
French: Canard souchet
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderAnseriformes
FamilyAnatidae
GenusAnas
SizeLength: 44 - 52cm
Wingspan: 73 - 82cm

The shoveler is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) in the UK. Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern).

The shoveler (Anas clypeata) is named for its extraordinary oversized bill, which has a broad spatula-shaped tip. Both sexes have this feature, but the drake (male) shoveler, in his flamboyant breeding plumage, is easily distinguishable from the female. He has a bottle-green head (rather like the drake mallard), a white chest, chestnut flanks and black primary wing feathers and tail. The upper shoulder of the wing has a prominent sapphire blue flash. In the late summer, the drake loses his finery, and goes into 'eclipse plumage' after moulting. Both sexes then appear mottled brown, although the drake can be identified by a white streak just in front of the eye. Immature birds are similar in appearance to birds in this eclipse phase but look somewhat darker. Shovelers belong to the family Anatidae or dabbling ducks, and this describes their feeding behaviour exactly. Shovelers rarely 'up-end' like mallard and other surface-feeding ducks. However, they will dive if disturbed.

Shovelers are resident across most of Britain although those in the north migrate south to avoid harsh northern winters. The largest UK populations are found in East Anglia and central England. The birds range across most of southern and central Europe, Finland and Russia including Siberia, and are also found in central and western parts of the USA and Canada. Most of the birds that breed in northern latitudes migrate south during the winter.

Shovelers prefer areas of shallow fresh water surrounded by rich vegetation, although they can be found on fens and marshes with plenty of open water.

In common with most other ducks, after mating the drake shoveler plays no further part in the incubation of the eggs and rearing of the ducklings. In April or May, the female constructs a nest on dry ground, often concealed in a grass tussock, and lines it with down from her own breast. There may be as many as 12 buff-coloured eggs and incubation takes 24 days. The female leads them away from the nest as soon as the clutch has hatched. The ducklings feed on small insects and other invertebrates, as well as plant seeds and buds. They can fly after about six weeks, and by the end of October, most British birds have migrated to southern Europe.

The shoveler does not appear to be a threatened species, although the north-west European population is believed to have been in decline for some years. Between the late 1960s and the early 1990s, there was a 39 percent reduction in the number of 10 kilometre squares where breeding was recorded in the UK. Some of this decline is thought to be through the loss of wetland in several parts of the country, and the British breeding population (currently estimated at about 1000 pairs) is concentrated at a relatively small number of sites. The species receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended), the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order and the EC Birds Directive.

The single most important UK site for the shoveler is the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire, thought to support over 150 pairs, some two percent of the international population. The Ouse Washes hold significant numbers of many breeding waterfowl and have been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA). This site is specially managed for wildfowl, being allowed to flood during the winter, and grazed to encourage suitable conditions for breeding birds.

In addition to the breeding population, shoveler numbers are swelled in winter by migratory birds from northern Europe, Russia and the Ukraine, and (possibly) Iceland. Shoveler migration is a complex affair, with British birds leaving for southern Europe and northern European birds arriving to overwinter. All this makes assessing population sizes rather difficult, so the current estimate of 10,000 UK birds may be less than the actual number. In addition to the designated SPA for breeding shovelers, there are 26 non-breeding SPAs, where the birds' importance qualifies the sites for special protection.

For more information on the shoveler and other bird species:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1.  IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/