The red shoveler is a sexually dimorphic duck, which means that the males and females look different. The males have a reddish coloured body with black speckles, a black and white- streaked lower back, rump and tail. The females appear to be mottled brown due to their feather colouring with a white streaked black tail. Both female and male heads are pale brown. They are named for the wide shovel-like bill shared by both sexes.
These birds are gregarious, they usually live in pairs or in small groups, but will form larger groups when they are moulting. Red shovelers are migratory, moving north in the winter and south during the summer breeding season. They are ground nesting, building nests out of dry plant material such as reeds, twigs and grasses. The females lay between five and eight eggs and will incubate them and raise the chicks without the help of the male.
Rather unwary and trusting Red Shovelers readily associate with other waterfowl including both South American swans. They inhabit a range of freshwater and brackish habitats especially large coastal lagoons and estuaries, as well as turbid, alkaline lakes supporting dense zooplankton. They can live at altitudes of up to 3,400 metres above sea level. Shovelers will dabble, head dip and forage on the water edges for food.
Their diet of planktonic aquatic invertebrates is supplemented with seeds and other parts of water plants. They use their shovel-like beaks to filter the mud and water for plants and aquatic invertebrates. Shoveler’ strong pair bonds are forged during the austral winter, with nesting commencing in September and October. Drakes accompany females and broods approximately twenty percent of the time, though they are seemingly not involved in duckling care.
They fly swiftly and dart about in flight. The low rattlers or hollow “wooden-sounding” notes of displaying drakes are weaker and squeakier than the similar calls of Northern Shovelers.