Discover… Australian Shelducks 

Australian Shelducks tower over their fellow native friends as the largest Australian duck, the biggest at 72cm in length. You’ll have to look a little further than your local creek to find these guys, however, trust us, they are worth the wait!  

Hard to find, easy to spot 

If you’re out discovering ducks, there’s no mistaking Australian Shelducks for anything else. They are super-unique looking, with glossy black feathers, warm cinnamon patches and brilliant white rings around their chest and beak, and around the eyes of the female duck. They also have a green window of feathers, which is called a spectrum.  

Two’s company, a thousand’s a flock… 

Apart from their good looks, Australian Shelducks are hard to miss because they tend to spend time in large flocks – sometimes up to a thousand birds in one group! This makes for a truly impressive duck spotting experience, as the areas they inhabit are teeming with ducks as far as the eye can see.  

If you’re really lucky, you’ll catch a flock of Shelducks in flight. They fly in a distinct ‘V’ formation, putting on an airshow that is truly mesmerising to watch.  

A Shelduck chorus  

You’ll probably hear a flock of Australian Shelducks before you see them. They have a unique quack, particularly when males and females are searching for the perfect mate. The male duck, or drake, will make an excellent, deep honking sound, with the females replying with a distinctive ‘ong-ank, ong-ank’ that can be heard miles away.  

These ducks are monogamous, with the male and female pairing off to build a nest in the hollow of a tree, cliff edge or rabbit burrow. The Shelduck pairs spend up to six weeks with their new family, keeping the ducklings safe after they are born.   

Experiencing flight delays  

All birds replace their feathers at least once a year during a process called ‘moulting’. Most often, these feathers will be shed progressively, however, Australian Shelducks lose all their primary feathers at once. This renders them flightless for 20-40 days after their moult, leaving them at the mercy of gravity like any other land animal.  

As you can imagine, losing the ability to fly is not much fun for these ducks.  So, they utilise their terrific swimming skills to keep themselves safe from predators during this time. It’s the only time of year you can catch the Australian Shelduck diving – it makes an excellent hiding technique to get away from pesky dangers.  

Fresh is best  

Australian Shelducks love fresh water. They are most often found on freshwater swamps, lakes or large, deep wetlands. After breeding they will often fly long distances with their flocks to huge wetlands in South Australia or the Australian Capital Territory to moult their feathers.  

Want to know more about the Australian Shelduck? Download our fact sheet here. Or take the quiz to test how much you really know about ducks!

Listen to the Australian Shelduck