Common Shelducks are strikingly beautiful large waterfowl found widely dispersed in Europe and Asia. These large birds seem to be half goose and half duck and have very strong and dramatic markings.
Shelducks are attractively marked with large patches of black and rust on white. Males have a crisper coloring with large black heads with a green sheen and bright red bills with a swan-like knob. Females have bits of white spread about in their colored patches and seem less crisp. Females are also slightly smaller in overall size and don’t have such a dramatic bill. Both sexes have dark brown eyes and pinkish feet and legs.
Range: Common Shelducks have a very wide range extending from cold mudflats in Great Britain and Scotland to Mongolia to wetlands in the Mediterranean. They tend to winter in warmer zones and migrate to more northern areas for breeding.
Habitat: Common Shelducks are attracted to large bodies of water and open space around rivers in the breeding season. Nests are usually made in abandoned animal burrows, holes in trees, and other similar places.
Status in the Wild: Shelducks have strong population numbers and can be found in a very diverse and wide range in the wild. They are currently classified as being of Least Concern.
Status in Aviculture: Shelducks are a popular bird for avian collectors, mainly due to their attractive and striking coloration and size.
Breeding: Male Common Shelducks or Sheldrakes start displaying for pair-bonding in January. During this time, males can fight and will need to be separated from one another. Most pairs mate for life. The breeding season is April through June. Nesting sites are usually shared by several pairs. A clutch usually consists of 8-10 cream-white eggs, which hatch in about 29-31 days. Females do the incubation and males stand guard nearby. Once hatched, chicks are guarded by the parents and led to the water source. Often a group of chicks from different parents are all gathered into a group that is guarded by a couple of adults. The chicks fledge at about 45-50 days old and are independent at that point. Female Shelducks are sexually mature at 2 years. Males take longer to fully mature, usually at 4-5 years old.
Lifespan: Shelducks have been known to live between 10 and 20 years old.
Size: Common Shelducks have long legs and look rather goose-like but with a short neck. They measure about 20-24 inches in length and weigh between 1.75 to 3.25 pounds, with males being a bit larger than females in general.
Housing Requirements: Any housing that would be appropriate for geese or large ducks would also be fine for Common Shelducks. If keeping Shelducks in an enclosure, plan for at least 10 x 15 feet or 150 square feet per bird. Shelducks will need a body of water as with any waterfowl. If not pinioned, they can fly except for when molting, and you will need an enclosure with some sort of roof or top to keep them from flying away.
Diet: Common Shelducks feed on insects and aquatic invertebrates. They also sometimes dine on small fish and some plant materials as well. They forage in shallow waters by upending, and they also dig and dabble at the water’s edge in mud. The diet of birds kept in captivity should attempt to mimic this wild diet. A quality commercial waterfowl feed with supplemental vegetable matter, insects, worms, etc. would be sufficient. Giving the birds access to a body of water where they could forage would be even better.
Miscellaneous Notes: Although very rare, Common Shelducks have been spotted occasionally in North America.