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.