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A rust colored bird preening in the water.
Information icon Canvasback. Photo by Clayton Ferrell, USFWS.

Canvasback

Aythya valisineria

Canvasback is the largest species of diving duck in North America and is highly recognizable due to the male’s stark white body, contrasting with a deep maroon head and neck. This species has been nicknamed “bull-neck,” and referred to as the aristocrat of ducks. Because of its diving feeding style, it spends most of its time using moderately deep-water marshes and lakes where it roots in the sediment searching for its favorite food, plant tubers from submersed aquatic vegetation. Like other diving ducks, canvasbacks need to get a running start to lift off the surface of the water in order to fly. When in the air, they are fast fliers even with their relativity large size.

Conservation status

Low concern. Hunting is a major mortality factor for this species, and bag limits are highly restrictive across most of its range to control sport harvest.

Range

This unique species is found almost exclusively in North America. The canvasback nests in the Prairie Pothole Region and parkland areas of the northern United States and central Canada. It winters mostly on the U.S. Gulf Coast and inland on large reservoirs and deep water lakes primarily in the southern Central and Mississippi Flyways. The species occurs at high densities during migration in a few areas of the Pacific (e.g., San Francisco Bay) and Atlantic (e.g., Lake Mattamuskeet, Chesapeake Bay) flyways.

Habitat

Canvasbacks typically nest over water in emergent or floating vegetation growing along the edge of deep-water lakes and marshes. Occasionally, canvasbacks will nest on dry land in grasses similar to many other duck species. During migration and winter, these diving ducks prefer large bodies of water including estuaries, reservoirs, and lakes. They typically occur in large flocks with other diving ducks species. National wildlife refuges in the Southeast provide habitat for migrating and wintering canvasbacks by offering deep-water lakes and marshes with beneficial aquatic vegetation and sanctuary conditions.

Diet

Canvasbacks are omnivores, eating both plant matter and animal matter, but they prefer tubers of aquatic vegetation. They are well-known for consuming wild celery tubers. During breeding season, females and young will consume more animal matter such as aquatic insects and small fish.

How you can help

You can help this species and other waterfowl by purchasing a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. The Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp is a nonprofit organization that supports promotion, preservation, sales, and better understanding of the Federal Duck Stamp’s conservation mission.

Subject matter experts

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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