South African Shelduck

Tadorna cana

South African Shelducks inhabit bodies of fresh water, ranging from small seasonal pans and farm dams to large impoundments, mostly in fairly arid areas or areas of open grassland. They grow to a length of 60-65cm and weigh between 0.7 and 2.2kg, and are often found alongside the slightly larger Egyptian Goose with which they could be confused. They’re active both during the day and night, searching mainly for vegetable food (including agricultural produce) although they will also consume crustaceans and the like when the opportunity arises.

In early summer South African Shelducks congregate in enormous flocks of up to 5,000 on large dams and lakes for their flightless moulting phase. After this they disperse into solitary, territorial, monogamous pairs (which often hold for many years) for the breeding season which mainly stretches from April to September. They usually nest in abandoned animal burrows, mostly those dug by aardvarks, porcupines or springhares, or other natural cavities, but very rarely on the open ground. Clutches of 6-15 eggs are incubated by the female only for around a month, after which both parents look after the ducklings until they become independent at between 3 and 4 months old.

South African Shelducks are only to be found in Namibia, a small part of Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa, where they can be seen at suitable habitat in all the provinces except Limpopo, eastern Mpumalanga and the northeast of Kwazulu-Natal. The IUCN lists the species as being of least concern and, although they’ve greatly expanded their range and numbers thanks to artificial water bodies laid on in arid areas, the population may be facing pressure from human disturbance as well as a decline in aardvark populations and the resultant diminishing of available nesting sites.

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22 thoughts on “South African Shelduck

  1. John

    It’s a very beautiful duck!😊 I have never seen any ducks together in that number, over 5000 in one dam! It must be an incredible sight. I have seen maybe 200 mallards together in a dam and maybe 2000 geese gathering together before they move, but in the ground.For the unusual sake, I think the female is more beautiful than the male. Otherwise, the females tend to be more camouflaged.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      It is most unusual among birds to have females with such conspicuous plumage, and I’d wager that people who are not familiar with this species might think they’re looking at two different kinds of ducks!

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      I also thought so at first, but it seems to be a strategy for many of our ducks – perhaps a way to escape predators like the African Fish Eagle who’d easily take a duck on the open water during the day.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thank you very much, Hien. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the clutch eventually attain adulthood – I think being such solitary nesters they are probably very prone to predators.

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