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the web of life in southern Africa

Anas smithii (Cape shoveller)

Kaapse slopeend [Afrikaans]; iDada (generic term for duck) [Zulu]; Siwoyo (generic term for duck) [Kwangali]; Letata (generic term for duck) [South Sotho]; Dada, Sekwe (both are generic names for duck or goose) [Shona]; Sekwa (generic term for duck or goose) [Tsonga]; Sehudi (generic term for duck) [Tswana]; Kaapse slobeend [Dutch]; Canard de Smith [French]; Kaplöffelente [German]; Pato-trombeteiro do Cabo [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Anseriformes > Family: Anatidae 

Cape shoveler male, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©] Cape shoveler female, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Anas smithii (Cape shoveller) Anas smithii (Cape shoveller)

Cape shoveller male in flight, West Coast National Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

The Cape shoveller is found manly in South Africa, where it is particularly common in the Western Cape and Kruger National Park. It feeds mainly on animals, with smaller quantities of plant matter. The female builds the nest, which is a scrape in the ground, filled with leaves and completely surrounded by thick vegetation. It lays 5-13 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female, for 27-31 days. The chicks are taken care of by their mother, with the male helping by chasing predators away. The chicks can usually fly at 63 days old, after which they become independent.


Longest living 11 years
Longest distance travelled 2011 km

Distribution and habitat

Found mostly in South Africa, with smaller populations in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Angola and Zambia. Generally prefers shallow, plankton-rich freshwater wetlands, such as tidal estuaries, saline lagoons and saltpans. It is also very common in sewage pans, such as the Strandfontein Sewage Works.

Distribution of Cape shoveler in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


Its movements are quite erratic and not well understood. It is usually resident, but it has been recorded to fly huge distances, e.g. one bird was ringed in the Western Cape, and eventually found in recovered in Namibia, 2011 km away.

Predators and parasites

  • Predators
  • Parasites
    • lice
      • Holomenopon setigerum
      • Trinoton querquedulae


It mainly feeds on animals, although it varies greatly between different individuals. It usually feeds by filtering water while swimming, although it also upends and dabbles. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Animals
    • snails
    • insects
    • crustacea
    • Xenopus (platanna) tadpoles
  • Plant matter
    • Potamogeton pectinatus (Sago pondweed) leaves and stems


  • Monogamous, solitary nester. The courtship is quite elaborate, with head-shaking, strange calls and aerial chases.
  • The nest (see image below) is built solely by the female, 2-10 days before egg laying starts, consisting of a scrape in dry ground. This is filled with leaves and stems and usually lined with down feathers. It is normally placed on islands, always surrounded by thick vegetation.

Cape shoveler nest with eggs, Wakkerstroom, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • The egg laying season is year round, peaking from July-November.
  • It lays 5-13 eggs, in successive days. It is prone to clutch desertion, if constantly disturbed.
  • Incubation is done solely by the female, for 27-31 days. The female normally takes two one hour breaks a day, covering the eggs with nesting material to join the male in feeding, preening and bathing.
  • The chicks are taken care of by their mother, with the male helping by chasing predators away. The chicks can usually fly at 63 days old, after which they become independent.


Not threatened, in fact has benefited from human interference, especially in the Kruger National Park and the Western Cape.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.