Conservation Education and Science
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Cape Shelduck
ORDER: Anseriformes
FAMILY: Anatidae
RANGE: southern Africa
HABITAT: shallow freshwater and brackish wetlands in open country
DIET: grass, seed, grain, algae, plants, insect larva and crustaceans

The cape shelduck is a large, gray headed, rusty-orange bird not likely to be confused with any other bird within its range. Sexually dimorphic, the female is slightly smaller than the male and has white facial patches around her eyes. The male has a gray head. Juveniles are similar to the male, but are paler and duller with brownish edgings to their upperwing-coverts.

The birds establish long-term pair bonds and in the dry season (June-July) paired cape shelducks build a nest of plant matter, lined with a thick coat of down, in an old mammal burrow, or other cavity. The female lays one-to-15 eggs, which hatch in 30 days. The chicks are dark brown on top and silvery white underneath and they fledge in about 10 weeks.

Presently, cape shelducks are common and stable in their limited range. They are dependent upon a very few unique locations where they congregate in large numbers to molt. They also need many mammal burrows for nest sites. The elimination of black-backed jackals has hurt these ducks because the jackal once ate small predators that now eat the cape shelducks’ eggs.