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Tadorna tadorna

This is a large, colourful duck, bigger than most ducks at around 65cm but generally smaller than geese so a bit of a intermediate species.

At first glance, both sexes look pretty much alike: both have a chestnut belly stripe, pink legs and feet, a glossy green head and neck, and a red bill. But in spite of that, they’re pretty easy to tell apart. ⠀

The most obvious difference is that drakes have a lumpy knob at the top of their bill. In fact, it has been suggested that its name is derived from ‘shield’ duck as the drake’s red bill is like a shield extending up its forehead. However, it probably just relates to the Old English word ‘sheld’ meaning ‘pied’ or mixed in colour.⠀

One reason for the female’s lack of camouflage is that both parents care for the young. And another reason is that shelducks like to nest in burrows and holes often reusing old rabbit burrows – a great example of recycling.

When they moult in late summer and autumn they’re completely unable to fly for a few weeks – a dangerous time for them. Rather than taking their chances in areas with lots of predators, just before they moult many fly to the wilderness of the Waddensee, an area of the North Sea between Germany and Denmark. Here, huge flocks of shelducks meet to feed in flightless safety while their shiny new feathers return.⠀

Migration stories

Many shelduck spend the whole year in the UK, breeding in the north of England in the summer: some travel to the Solent in the winter from other parts of Europe.

Conservation status

They are amber listed in the UK and  a qualifying feature for the Chichester and Langstone Harbours Special Protection Area – that means, when the site was designated, a nationally significant number of shelducks used these coastlines in the winter.

Did you know?

Shelduck are famously seen in huge flocks, up to 100,000, along the northern coast of Germany during late summer and autumn. They go here to shed their feathers and grow new ones: for four weeks or so they are unable to fly.