Tadorna tadorna (Linnaeus, 1758) SU SHELD 1730
Family: Anseriformes > Anatidae

Shelduck, John Harding

Between the size of most ducks and the larger geese, the Shelduck is easy to identify with its white, black and chestnut plumage and bright red bill.

In winter, Shelduck favour muddy estuaries and coastal marshes. Wetland Bird Survey data reveal the importance of north-west England for this species, with about ten thousand birds wintering on both the Dee and Mersey Estuaries. There has been a noticeable extension of range during the last 50 years.

The breeding range in Britain has also been extending inland over this period, with valley farmlands, pig fields and reservoirs are the habitats where Shelduck are most often encountered. This is a burrow-nesting species, so sandy soils and Rabbit warrens assist the birds in finding suitable nest sites.

Exploring the trends for Shelduck

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Shelduck population is changing.

trends explorer


Shelduck identification is usually straightforward.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Shelduck, provided by xeno-canto contributors.

Flight call


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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



Shelducks occurred on relatively few CBC plots, most of which were close to a coast or an estuary, and it is unclear how well the CBC trend represented the UK breeding population. The CBC showed a substantial increase from the mid 1960s until the early 1980s, some decrease during the 1980s, and stability during the 1990s, although the wide confidence intervals provide scope for other interpretations. Population increase was associated with expansion of range, measured as an additional 20% of occupied 10-km squares in Britain between 1968-72 and 1988-91 (Gibbons et al. 1993). The UK winter Shelduck population rose during the 1960s and 1970s, alongside the rise in breeding numbers, but then decreased from the mid 1990s, although a slight upturn has occurred in the last five years (WeBS: Frost et al. 2020). The BBS index is affected by occasional large counts, and therefore its confidence intervals are again relatively wide. BBS results show no clear population trend since 1994, but there has been further expansion of breeding population (Balmer et al. 2013). The species has increased across Europe since 1991 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a>).

Exploring the trends for Shelduck

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Shelduck population is changing.

trends explorer


Shelducks wintering around the coastline favour muddy estuaries and coastal marshes. Inland, they utilise a range of sites including valley farmland, lakes, reservoirs and pig fields. The breeding distribution map shows birds to be well distributed around the lowland coastal fringe and at scattered inland locations in northern, central and southern England.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Breeding Season Habitats


The continued colonisation of inland breeding sites since the 1968–72 Breeding Atlas is the most striking change for the Shelduck and is also consistent with the change in range that has taken place in winter; increases of 34% and 17% in range size were recorded when compared with the 1968–72 Breeding Atlas and the 1981–84 Winter Atlas respectively.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Shelducks are present throughout the year, though more often reported in winter and during spring migration.

Weekly occurence of Shelduck from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.

An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Shelduck ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Shelduck, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.


Exploring the trends for Shelduck

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Shelduck population is changing.

trends explorer


View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report

Exploring the trends for Shelduck

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Shelduck population is changing.

trends explorer


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Cràdh-ghèadh
Welsh: Hwyaden yr Eithin
Catalan: ànec blanc
Czech: husice lišcí
Danish: Gravand
Dutch: Bergeend
Estonian: ristpart
Finnish: ristisorsa
French: Tadorne de Belon
German: Brandgans
Hungarian: bütykös ásólúd
Icelandic: Brandönd
Irish: Seil-lacha
Italian: Volpoca
Latvian: Samsalas dižpile
Lithuanian: paprastoji urvine antis
Norwegian: Gravand
Polish: ohar
Portuguese: tadorna
Slovak: kazarka pestrá
Slovenian: duplinska kozarka
Spanish: Tarro blanco
Swedish: gravand


Interpretation and scientific publications about Shelduck from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

There is little good evidence available regarding the drivers of the breeding population change in this species in the UK.

Further information on causes of change

No further information is available.

Information about conservation actions

The recent trend for Shelduck is uncertain and hence it is unclear whether direct conservation action is currently required for this species in the UK. There is little specific research evidence relating to breeding requirements for the species, but it is likely that actions to maintain and improve availability and habitat quality in wetland habitats will benefit Shelduck. The species nests in underground holes or similar cavities (e.g. rabbit burrows) and the provision of artificial nest sites may help support nesting (BirdLife International)


Peer-reviewed papers
Avocet - Amy Lewis

Consequences of population change for local abundance and site occupancy of wintering waterbirds

Wavering Waterbirds

2017 | Méndez, V., Gill, J.A., Alves, J.A., Burton, N.H.K. & Davies, R.G.Diversity and Distributions

Protected sites are assigned based on population statistics for vulnerable and endangered species. This new study using WeBS data shows that changes in population size can affect local abundance, and thus influence whether or not key targets are met for site protection.

Peer-reviewed papers
Curlew. Liz Cutting

Long term changes in the abundance of benthic foraging birds in a restored wetland

2021 | Mander, L., Scapin, L., Thaxter, C.B., Forster, R. & Burton, N.H.K.Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

Peer-reviewed papers

Low tide distribution of wintering waders and shelduck on the Severn Estuary in relation to the proposed tidal barrage

1994 | Clark, N.A. & Prŷs-Jones, R.J.Biological Journal of the Linnean Society

Peer-reviewed papers
Shelduck in flight. Liz Cutting

Migratory movements of British and Irish Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna: a review of ringing data and a pilot tracking study to inform potential interactions with offshore wind farms in the North Sea

Shelduck migratory paths cross potential wind farm sites

2021 | Green, R.M.W., Burton, N.H.K. & Cook, A.S.C.P.Ringing & Migration

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