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Canvasback duck

Canvasback Duck

The Canvasback duck can be recognized from a distance by its Roman profile. They show a continuous line from their dramatic sloping foreheads down to their large dark bills. The male has a red eye, a deep red-chestnut head and a black neck and hindquarters. Their backs are very light gray and the sides are whiter. The female head and neck are pale brown and the back and sides grayer than the male. They are nineteen to twenty-two inches long.

The name Canvasback comes from delicate dotted and lined wave-like pattern on their backs, which resembles canvas. Canvasbacks are diving ducks. Sometimes they dive as much as thirty feet to the lake bottom, where they feed on roots and tubers. They will also feed on young aquatic insects, clams and snails. They are especially fond of wild celery seeds.

Their feet are located far back on their body, which is ideal for propelling them under water, but makes them clumsy when walking on land, which therefore they rarely do. Since they need a running takeoff for flight, they are found on larger lakes, estuaries and reservoirs.

Canvasbacks are wary an so join into large flocks rafting together far from shore. We see them here in the fall and winter. Most Canvasbacks in the U.S. nest in the Great Plains and Great Basin marshes. Their breeding grounds are marshes and small ponds known as potholes. They build a concealed nest on top of reeds or rushes growing out of the water.

After the seven to nine gray-green eggs are laid, the male leaves. The female incubates the eggs for twenty-four to twenty-nine days. During this time she loses seventy percent of her body fat. The downy hatchlings soon leave the nest but donít fly for ten to twelve weeks. Interestingly, the female Canvasback is highly philopatric, returning to breed in the same area as she was born. Males virtually never return: consequently a given pair mates for only one season.

First published MCAS The Whistling Swan June 2011
Canvasback duck photo by Doug Greenberg