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A familiar large duck found on the mudflats around Poole and Chrstchurch harbours

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Shelduck: the shellfish duck 

Shelduck (Tadorna tadornacan be seen around the sheltered coastal waters of Dorset for most of the year. They breed here in small numbers and then are joined by inward bound birds from further north in the autumn to overwinter here. The shelduck has a particular habit of leaving its breeding territory in late summer to gather with many others of its kind to moult; there are established moulting sites and famously many thousands gather on part of the northern coast of Germany. There are some moulting sites on estuaries in Britain but there is not one in Dorset sadly. Overall the British population seems to be increasing and now they can be sometimes found breeding at sites inland.

The shelduck  is not actually a duck, and It not a goose either! Scientifically, it placed between the two and actually, it is not hard to see why as it displays characteristics of both. The diet of a shelduck is somewhat different to ducks and geese who tend to be vegetarian. Shelduck eat enormous numbers if hydrobia which are tiny molluscs that live in our estuary mud flats. Molluscs have shells hence the name - shelduck. The duck that eats shells; easy!

Males and females are very similar but the male (as in this photo) has a broader brown waste band. Shelduck make their nests in burrows, often those of rabbits. How does such a large bird get down into such a relatively small hole?

The weekly reporting chart based on tweeted observations shows the expected pattern based on the textbook description of their life cycle with records pretty continuously from week 1 to week 27 at the start of July by which time the young birds are able to travel. There is then a period until week 41 at the start of October where reports become far more erratic and this ties in with the period they spend away moulting. Reports then start to build up from week 44 at the start of November as birds return for the winter.

There are records from thirty six locations around Dorset which are almost exclusively coastal around Christchurch and Poole Harbours and along the Fleet from Ferrybridge to West Bexington. There are inland records from the reservoirs at Longham and also from the large lake at Moors Valley.

A visit to Ferrybridge, Stanpit Marsh or Brownsea in winter or spring should ensure you can add shelduck to your Dorset list.


Common Name Shelduck
Scientific Name Tadorna tadorna
Species Group Birds Ducks
Status Locally frequent
Interest Level
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
Look for

Big white ducks with a brown chest band

Identification Notes
  • Seen most of the year but in lesser numbers in August and September with far greater numbers in winter when immigrant birds arrive
  • They are something between a duck and a goose in appearance
  • Primarily white but with a green head and a very distinctive brown chest band
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Ducks