Australasian Shoveler

Spatula rhynchotis

Australasian Shoveler, male. Photo: Kevin Williams

The worldwide genus Spatula contains ten species, four of which have large, spatulate bills and a low sloping forehead, and are known as “shovelers”. The male Australasian Shoveler is arguably the most handsome of these. Well, as handsome as you can be with a low sloping forehead and a large snozz.

Australasian Shoveler. Photo: John Spiers

Shovelers live on small aquatic invertebrates such as insects, molluscs and crustaceans ,and also parts of aquatic plants. They use their spatulate beak to filter water and mud obtained by dabbling on the surface or at the water’s edge.

They usually breed from August to December but this is more variable inland where they breed in response to rainfall. Shovelers are probably monogamous but persistence of pair-bond and social system in general poorly known.

The Australasian Shoveler has previously been called the Blue-winged Shoveler.


The large wedge-shaped bill is diagnostic. Males differ from females. In breeding plumage, the male has a grey head with a curved, white, vertical stripe on the face behind the bill, and in front of the bright yellow eyes. The flanks are chestnut with variable black markings, the chest, back and rump have a black-and-white checker pattern, the speculum is green and the upperwing coverts light blue. There is a prominent white mark on the rear flank. The female is a non-descript grey brown all over. In eclipse plumage, the male resembles the female but retains the distinctive yellow eye colour whereas hers are brown. Both sexes have yellow-orange legs. Juveniles resemble females.

Where to find it

Shovelers are found in shallow wetlands with abundant emergent vegetation throughout the wetter south and east of the state, and on ephemeral lakes and wetlands inland. They can be found on freshwater, brackish and saline waters including inshore waters and estuaries.

They are mainly sedentary but under drought conditions become dispersive and nomadic gathering in large numbers at certain locations.