- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant; regular in the winter months at scattered locations in southern Minnesota. The Northern Shoveler was an uncommon species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Although it has a global distribution, in North America the Northern Shoveler is primarily a species of the northern Great Plains and Canadian Prairie Provinces (Figure 1). Smaller populations occur further east, in states and provinces bordering the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, and in western North America from Texas and New Mexico north to central Alaska.
A game species, the Northern Shoveler is designated a Moderate Priority at the continental level by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. It has been assigned a Continental Concern Score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight.
A medium-distance migrant that winters along the southern coasts of the United States, south through the Caribbean and Central America.
Aquatic invertebrates (predominantly cladocerans) and seeds; strains water through its shovellike bill as it skims the water’s surface.
In 1932 Roberts described the Northern Shoveler as “a common breeding Duck in almost all parts of the state” and “one of the commonest nesting ducks at present.” Confirmed nesting records (nests with eggs), however, were only available from 2 counties, Hennepin and Polk, while other evidence of breeding (broods or reports of nesting) was reported from just the three widely separated counties of Cook, Jackson, and Marshall. Despite Roberts’s sweeping statement about the Northern Shoveler’s broad distribution, one has to wonder how prevalent the species was in the forested regions north and east of the Prairie Parklands.
When Roberts published his account of the Northern Shoveler in 1932, the species had already rebounded, like so many other waterfowl, from a rather dramatic decline in the late 1800s caused largely by unregulated harvesting. In 1898 one long-time observer at Heron Lake wrote, “Once very common and breeding everywhere here but now rarely found nesting in this locality.” Almost twenty years later, others would note that breeding birds were once again appearing at this renowned waterfowl lake. The Northern Shoveler’s recovery, however, must have been quite slow. In 1946 the summer seasonal report for the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union reported that although the Northern Shoveler was said to be one of the most common nesting waterfowl species in the state, it had only been reported in two of the previous six years (Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union 2016).
More than 40 years after Roberts wrote his treatise on Minnesota birds, Green and Janssen (1975) described the Northern Shoveler as a summer resident restricted primarily to the western and south-central regions of the state. The species was scarce in the southeast and in the northern forested regions. Although two more nesting records had been documented in northeastern Minnesota (one in Itasca County in 1949 and one in Aitkin County in 1972), those records represented single occurrences of breeding pairs. Janssen described the same breeding range in his 1987 update and added St. Louis County to the list of northeastern counties where nesting had been confirmed. He delineated 13 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970; all but 4 (Aitkin, Cook, Itasca, and St. Louis) were within the species’ primary breeding range. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) provided an update to Janssen’s list of counties with confirmed nesting. Two counties identified by Janssen were deleted (Cook and Itasca) and 3 were added (Kittson, Polk, and Stevens).
To date, the Minnesota Biological Survey has documented a total of 85 breeding season locations for the Northern Shoveler (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016). All but a handful of records were located in the Prairie Parkland and Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Provinces. Seven records were documented in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province in northeastern and north-central Minnesota, with locations as far east as central St. Louis County.
During the MNBBA, participants reported 314 Northern Shoveler records from 5.1% (244/4,740) of the surveyed atlas blocks and from 4.7% (110/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 11 (0.2%) of the surveyed blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The species was reported from 57 of Minnesota’s 87 counties (Cass County was included because of a block that straddled Cass and Itasca Counties) and was confirmed breeding in 10 counties. With the exception of 1 breeding record in Pine County, all the breeding records were in far western Minnesota, from Roseau County in the northwest to Murray County in the southwest. Seven of the counties were new to the list published by Hertzel and Janssen in 1998: Chippewa, Clearwater, Lac qui Parle, Murray, Otter Tail, Pine, and Roseau. All reports were of fledged young. Overall, the largest number of records was from west-central Minnesota.
Over the years, the Northern Shoveler has been reported during the summer months from every county in Minnesota but is least common in the far southeastern counties and in north-central and northeastern Minnesota (Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union 2016). The species’ rarity in southeastern Minnesota continued through the MNBBA period. Although records in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province were sparse, the region did report 28 records, including 7 in St. Louis County and 10 in Itasca County. The apparent increase in records further east in Minnesota could represent a gradual reoccupation of areas where the species was formerly more common, as Roberts (1932) implied. Indeed, Dubowy (1996) commented that the Northern Shoveler may have bred east of its current distribution in years past. The species also has demonstrated a tolerance for wastewater treatment lagoons. Of the 6 atlas blocks where the Northern Shoveler was reported in St. Louis County, 3 had wastewater treatment ponds and 1 included a former mine pit filled with water. Atlas blocks where the Northern Shoveler was reported in Itasca County, however, had no wastewater treatment ponds or mine pits; all atlas blocks had natural wetlands.
Looking elsewhere within the species’ breeding range, Dubowy (1996) noted the shoveler’s presence as a breeding species in eastern Canada is relatively recent and may be due to the “proliferation of sewage-treatment plants.” Cadman et al. (2007) noted that although it may appear as a recent addition to Ontarios’ avifauna, populations nesting along the province’s northern coasts may have simply been missed by early ornithologists. Today the species can be found throughout southeastern Ontario as well as in scattered locations throughout the Hudson Bay lowlands and the Northern Shield.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.