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Species, Age and Sex Identification of Ducks Using Wing Plumage

Northern Shoveler


The presence of white primary shafts separates shovelers from all other North American ducks. All birds having specula that are more than half gray or dull non-iridescent green are females. All males and a few adult females have iridescent green on more than half of their secondaries.

Most females show cream edging on the lesser and middle coverts. This often covers all these feathers, particularly on adult females. Immature males may show a few cream colored edges on feathers near the alula.

The tertials of immature males are brownish and much frayed, while those of adults and first winter immatures are greenish black and much longer. The tertial coverts of the immature male are brownish black and often show a frayed fringe. Adult tertial coverts are blackish, often washed with blue. Both immature tertials and immature tertial coverts are usually present during October.

Immature males generally have small dusky spots on their greater coverts, while adults do not.

The immature tertials of females are similar to those of immature males. The tertials of adult females are wider, not frayed, and more heavily washed with white at the tips.

Wing Character Male Female
Adult Immature Immature Adult
Tertials Acutely pointed; dark, shiny; greenish black; many with white on inner webs Medium to bluntly pointed, dark brown tips; often frayed or faded; often narrowly edged with white Bluntly pointed; wide; white edging on outer webs; not frayed or faded
After molt: Similar to adult male After molt: Similar to adult female
Greater tertial coverts Smoothly rounded; dark brown to shiny black; unfrayed Brown; often much frayed; with trace of light edging Brown; white edging forms smoothly rounded arc
After molt: Similar to adult male After molt: Similar to adult female
Secondaries Iridescent green present on all but most distal 1 or 2 Generally more than half have some iridescent green Generally less than half have some iridescent green; sometimes all are entirely dull brownish The number with iridescent green varies from one or two of more proximal to nearly all
Greater secondary coverts White; dark bases normally covered by middle coverts White; often with small dark spots at tip; about 1/4 - 1/2 inch of dark base normally shows White; about 1/4 - 1/2 inch of dark base normally shows
Middle and lesser coverts Bright pale blue; without edging but quite pointed Pale blue but brownish bases usually show; coverts near alula may have pale edging; generally quite pointed Brownish blue to gray-brown; usually most have pale edges but sometimes entirely plain; generally quite pointed Bluish to brownish blue; usually most have pale edges and often pale centers; rounded to bluntly pointed


JPG-Adult male northern shoveler JPG-Adult female northern shoveler JPG-Immature male northern shoveler JPG-Immature female northern shoveler

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