Australian Shelduck -Tadorna tadornoids Anatid

Australian Shelduck
Australian Shelduck

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There have been several sightings of these birds in the northeast. I was with some other U3A  birdos a week ago when we saw two pairs at the sandy creek reserve. Leonie Smith -Jackson also saw a pair of them at Marks Smiths property along Yabba Road a couple of weeks ago.


The Australian Shelducks are usually unmistakeable, with their upright stance and dark head contrasting with the white neck ring. It’s a large rusty brown and black duck with extensive white in wings, with a small head and bill more the size of a goose than a duck. The females have a distinct white ring around the eye and base of its bill, while the male has an all-black head and neck slightly tinged green. This species is also known as the chestnut breasted Shelduck, Mountain Duck and Sheldrake. The shelduck is an extremely wary bird.


The Australian shelduck mainly breeds in southern Australia and Tasmania but some records show it has flown farther north as far as the Kimberley in Western Australia. After breeding some migrate long distances to large wetlands such as Lake George in the Australian Capital Territory and the Coorong in South Australia to moult flight and tail feathers. They are protected under the national parks and wildlife act. The total population is unknown, but scientist believe there are at least 10,000 mature individuals.


The Australian Shelduck’s primary habitat is lakes in open country.  It also likes freshwater swamps, farm dams and enjoys gathering on large, deep wetlands. They will also venture into habitats with salt water, the Australian Shelduck prefers to be always within easy reach of fresh water where it finds its preferred food source.

The duck likes to graze on green grass, insects and seeds on land or near shallow water. They will occasionally feed on algae and molluscs. The nest of the shelduck is usually in a large tree hollow, well lined with down. They have also been known to breed in rabbit burrows and in large hollows on cliff faces or similar locations.


Breeding season is between July and December. Only the female incubates the eggs while the male defends the broad territory. It lays eight to fifteen eggs, and these are incubated between thirty and thirty-three days. This group is monogamous, and some birds are known to create permanent pairs bonds. Within days of hatching the young are led to their nursery water by both parents or other adults. This could be 2 or 3 km away. These young are with several young from other parents and are under the care of one or more adults. The nursery group varies in size (20-40 individuals) and age range. Scientists believe the nursery supervisors are failed breeders or non-breeders. 

Australian Shelduck – Male

This Photo by JJ Harrison is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0


They communicate with honks, grunts, or whistles. A loud honking deeper and more grunted sound from the male and a higher more resonant sound from the female ‘ong ank,ong,ank’ Australian Shelduck flocks fly in long lines or in ‘V’ formations. Shelducks are not diving birds, but they are able to dive if necessary, such as if they are wounded or frightened.

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