Cape Shelduck (Tadorna cana), also known as South African Shelduck, is in a group of goose-like ducks in the family Anatidae. Found throughout parts of South Africa, this species is uniquely patterned with their bold tan and chestnut breast and starkly different gray neck and head. In flight, males are seen with a bright white patch on their marginal and secondary coverts followed by iridescent green coverts. Cape Shelducks and Egyptian Geese can look similar in flight, but are distinguished by the male’s deep honk or female’s sharp hark vocalizations. South African Shelducks females are similar with the same rusty breast and usually display either an almost completely white head and neck or a gray head and neck with white plumage around the eyes and bill, but are variable. Both sexes have pitch-black eyes, bills, and legs. Juveniles are easy to distinguish from adults through their duller plumage.
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Cape Shelduck (South African Shelduck) lives in both the uplands and lowlands in open country, mudflats, and rivers in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, and Namibia. This species is nomadic and tend to display high site fidelity; only leaving one area in search of food or away from poor weather. While omnivorous, this species in South Africa only consumes plant matter during the breeding season, which largely includes the seeds of agricultural crops. Other times of the year, this species will forage for crustaceans, insect larvae, and plant matter in fresh or brackish waters.
During the breeding season, this opportunistic species will take advantage of vacant holes and burrows left by mammals such as jackals and aardvarks. Vacant burrows by shorelines are preferred to build nests and brood in. Both Cape Shelduck parents take part in raising the young. Just days after hatching, ducklings are taken to the water where they, and ducklings from other broods, are cared for by a few adults. After the breeding season, Cape Shelducks make their way to deeper bodies of water to molt in large concentrations.
CAPE SHELDUCK. We drove to a farm about an hour from camp, on the way in passing small, circular, grass-roofed huts, the staring women and girls that had painted their smiling faces rouge-like with reddish soil, a common practice throughout Zululand, we learned. From a distant hilltop, we carefully glassed waterbodies until locating pairs of cape shelducks. Certainly, they can be shot over decoys, but during South Africa’s winter months, those cape shelducks that respond to decoys are occasionally single adults that haven’t pair-bonded or have lost their mates, but usually immature or otherwise non-breeding birds. Special permits are required to hunt Cape Shelducks during the winter months because they are winter breeders. We orchestrated a stalk, stepping over an earthen levee to jump them. Wing markings are similar to other non-provincially placed species within the shelduck-sheldgoose taxonomic family: bright white upper wing coverts, flashy, metallic green secondaries and striking underwing coverts that contrast with their body color while in flight. At a glance, they look similar to Egyptian geese in flight, which are also in the same taxonomic family of waterfowl, but lack the conspicuous red spots around the eyes and in the center of their chest that distinguish Egyptian geese. Predominantly rusty-orange, cape shelducks or South Africa Shelducks resemble the Ruddy Shelduck of Eurasia, but especially for head coloration – cape shelduck drakes have solid slate-gray heads and necks, hens have white facial patches with slate-gray necks. Interesting factoid, cape shelducks are ground nesters, usually building their nests in abandoned aardvark burrows.