It is easy to identify the regal drake Canvasback as
he surveys his domain while resting on a local
wetland. In breeding season, drakes sport a
chestnut-red head and neck with a thick black band
encircling the upper body. The white back actually
appears gray from fine black-brown vermiculations.
They also have red eyes and gray-blue feet. Outside of
breeding season, males have a duller cinnamon brown
head and chest with a dusky gray back, sides and
Adult females are less colorful then their male
counterpart. Hen Canvasbacks have a light brown head
and neck that merges into a darker brown chest and
foreback. Both males and females have a unique profile
with a wedge-shaped head that slopes up from the tip
of the bill to the back of the crown. Their neck is
also longer then most other diving ducks. This profile
is useful in distinguishing Canvasbacks from Redheads
who have a shorter bill and a steep forehead.
In flight, Canvasbacks are one of the fastest
flying of the larger ducks. They fly directly, without
the dipping and weaving seen in Scaup and Ring-necks.
Canvasback hens build their nests in emergent
vegetation over water and occasionally on land. Nests
are large and bulky, made of woven plant material and
lined with down. One grayish olive or greenish drab
egg is laid every day until there are about 7 to 8. It
is not unusual to find that a Redhead hen has also
added an egg or two to a Canvasback nest or, even more
commonly, another Canvasback will lay her eggs in
another’s nest. Incubation starts during the laying
of the last 2 or 3 eggs and lasts 24 to 29 days.
Raccoons, skunks, crows and magpies are the major
nest predators of Canvasbacks.
Once hatched, the hen will brood her ducklings for
about 24 hours before moving them to large ponds with
abundant submerged vegetation. Hens remain with their
brood for different lengths of time, depending on the
lateness of the season. Hens that laid early will stay
with their brood until they are nearly ready to fly,
but they will abandon late broods after 2 – 3 weeks.
During molt, females and their broods generally stay
in their breeding habitat while adult males move to
lakes with large expanses of open water and abundant
During breeding season, Canvasbacks choose small
lakes, deep-water marshes, sheltered bays of large
fresh water and alkali lakes, permanent and
semi-permanent ponds, sloughs, potholes and shallow
river impoundments. After the young hatch, hens rear
them in the same habitat they used for nesting,
usually moving them a short distance to more permanent
water with open water, less cover and more submerged
In winter, Canvasbacks can be found in a range of
habitats such as deep freshwater lakes, coastal
brackish and salt-water estuaries, shallow bays and
harbors, riverine deltas and deltaic splays.
Predictability of food sources and the ability of the
Canvasbacks to access that food generally determines
habitat choice in winter.
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