Aythya valisineria
Canvasback pair

Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge is known as supporting the densest breeding population of Canvasback ducks in the lower 48 states, west of the Mississippi River.  In the early spring, pairs may be seen all over the refuge, with the drakes in their striking and characteristic breeding plumage.  Canvasback hens build their nests over water, usually in dense bulrush patches.  The South Marsh portion of the Refuge, a 7000 acre intricate maze of bulrush islands and isolated open waters, is ideal nesting habitat.  Once the hens have started incubating their eggs the drakes leave the marsh to spend the summer and fall on large lakes and bays, primarily in California and Utah.  By early summer the hens are seen with their ducklings swimming in the marsh and along the collection ditch.  Most of the hens also depart, typically just before their ducklings are able to fly, though some remain till late fall.

Canvasbacks are a diving duck, able to dive over 10 feet below the water surface to feed on aquatic vegetation, tubers, insect larvae, snails, clams, and other invertebrates.  Ducklings are almost entirely dependent upon insects during the first few weeks of life.  They can be seen busily snapping up small bugs on the surface of the marsh in their yellowish down.  As they grow and begin putting on real feathers they are able to dive deeper and deeper and start consuming more vegetation.  Unlike dabbler ducks such as Mallards, Canvasbacks cannot lift-off directly from the water but, instead, need a “running start” before taking wing.  Drakes have a rusty red head, red eyes, and a black beak, chest and tail.  They are named for their canvas-white back and bodies.  Females have fairly nondescript, light brown heads and mottled brown backs, but both may be identified by their unique, long bills that slope off their foreheads.



Facts About Canvasback

Size: 20 - 24" long  

Weight: 1.9 to 3.5 lbs 

Wingspan: 31 - 35" 

Diet: seeds, buds, leaves, tubers, roots, snails, insect larvae 

Range: North America 

Breeding ground: freshwater marshes 

Winter habitat: lakes, estuaries, and saltwater bays  

 Canvasback drake (2)