Cape shell duck

Cape Shelduck

Scientific Classification

Common Name
Cape shelduck, South African shelduck
Genus Species
Tadorna cana

Fast Facts

The Cape shelduck has a gray head and neck with a buff breast. The rest of the body is chestnut red
37.5 to 60 cm (15 to 24 in.) in length; wingspan 87.5 to 125 cm (35 to 50 in.)
1.5 to 2.3 kg (3.3 to 4.9 lbs.)
The Cape shelduck is omnivorous and may feed on crustaceans, brachiopods, insect larvae and submerged plants. During the breeding season in South Africa, its diet consists entirely of vegetable matter, such as corn kernels and the seedlings of grain crops like wheat, oats, barley, sorghum, potatoes, peanuts, sunflower seeds, rice and figs.
30 days
Clutch Size
7 to 15 eggs
Fledging Duration
70 days
Sexual Maturity
Approximately 2 to 3 years
Life Span
Up to 22 years
The Cape shelduck has an extremely large range and may be found in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa.
Inhabits freshwater and brackish lakes, pools in river courses, rivers and exposed inland mud flats, in both upland and lowland areas of open country 
Global: Unknown; but appears to be increasing
IUCN: Least concern
CITES: Not listed
USFWS:  Not listed

Fun Facts

In the wild, these ducks may use holes and burrows made by other animals to build their nest.

Within days of hatching, the young are led from the nest to what field scientists call 'nursery water' by both parents or sometimes by other adults. This distance can be a mile or more. In the nursery there are several young from other shelducks together under the care of one or more adults. The nursery group (or crèche) varies in size and age range (a normal size crèche is 20 to 40 individuals, but some groups of 100 have been recorded).

Shelducks are not diving birds, but they are able to dive if needed. The young ducklings dive freely but the adults only do so when wounded or frightened.

The species is both a diurnal and nocturnal feeder

Ecology and Conservation

Cape shelducks may use the burrows of black-backed jackals may be in danger themselves because of declining jackal populations.

These ducks may also nest on the slope near an abandoned Aardvark or Porcupine burrow.

Water recreation and other human activities may pose a threat to this species through disturbance.

The Cape shelduck is hunted mainly for sport, but there is no evidence that this currently poses a threat.


Austin, G. Birds of the World. New York. Golden Press, Inc., 1961.

Gotch, A.F. Birds - Their Latin Names Explained. UK. Blandford Books Ltd., 1981.

Johnsgard, P. Ducks, Geese, and Swans of the World. Lincoln. Univ. Of Neb. Press, 1978.

Scott, P. A Coloured Key of the Wildfowl of the World. Slimbridge, England. The Wildfowl Trust. 1988.

Todd, F.S. Natural History of Waterfowl. San Diego, Ca. Ibis Publishing Co., 1996.

BirdLife International. 2016. Tadorna cana. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22680007A92838539. Downloaded on 06 November 2018.

Photo Credit: Cape_Shelduck_RWD.jpg. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Image by: DickDaniels, North Carolina Birds. Date Created: 26 January 2011. Website: License: CC by SA 3.0 Unported