Shelduck Tadorna tadorna

The shelduck is a medium-sized goose-like duck with a dark green head and a bright red bill. They have a chestnut-brown band around the breast and black patches on their back and wings. The male has a conspicuous lump on the bill, which is less prominent on females. The species is commonly found on muddy shores along the Scottish coast and estuaries, with smaller numbers on freshwater lochs.


Shelducks feed by digging or dabbling for shellfish, snails, insects and small fish. They have also been known to eat worms and seeds of various plants. Shelducks are mainly monogamous throughout their adult lives. Although the shelduck lays relatively large clutches of eggs (8-10), chick survival rates vary enormously depending on available food. Chicks often form crèches which are often guarded by a single pair of adults.


  • Length 58-64cm
  • Wingspan 110 -133cm
  • Weight: 1 to 1.4kg
  • Average Lifespan: 10 years


Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.


Widespread and common breeding species found around most of the Scottish coast, especially on muddy shores. Small numbers of shelducks breed inland. In July, most of the Scottish population migrates to north-west Germany after their moult. After this migration, they are unable to fly for 25-30 days. These birds return to Scotland in early autumn to overwinter.

When to see

All year round but more common during winter (Sept-Feb)


  • Shelducks nest underground in old rabbit burrows and tree holes.
  • The Trust’s Montrose Basin reserve has had up to 10 shelduck nests and up to 900 wintering shelduck in recent years.

Common name


Species name

Tadorna tadorna

IUCN Red List status

Least concern

When to see in Scotland

All year round but more common during winter (Sept-Feb)

Where to see in Scotland

Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves such as Montrose Basin or Dumbarnie Links.

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