FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

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.

Scientific Name

Aythya valisineria
Common Name
Canvasback
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Genus

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Sound

Canvasbacks are considered to be fairly silent, but become more vocal during courtship. However, males will make a soft grunt or croak. Females quack.

Physical Characteristics

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. In fact their scientific name, valisineria, refers to the scientific name of wild celery (Vallisneria americana). During breeding season, females and young will consume more animal matter such as aquatic insects and small fish.

Size & Shape

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. Females are more gray in color with a sandy-brown head. For both sexes, the bill is long and gives this bird a distinct sloping profile. 

MeasurementsLength: 19 to 23 in (48 to 58 cm)Wingspan: 31 to 35 in (79 to 89 cm)

Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

Canvasbacks are omnivores, eating both plant matter and animal matter. They prefer tubers of aquatic vegetation and are well-known for consuming wild celery tubers. In fact, their scientific name, valisineria, refers to the scientific name of wild celery (Vallisneria americana). During breeding season, females and young will consume more animal matter such as aquatic insects and small fish. 

Characteristic category

Life Cycle

Characteristics
Reproduction

Nests are frequently made to float on top of water in shallow wetlands and are constructed with grasses and reeds. Females lay seven to 10 greenish eggs.

Characteristic category

Behavior

Characteristics
Behavior

During migration, canvasback flocks often fly in a V-formation, a behavior typically displayed by geese. 

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
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.

Lake
Wetland

Geography

Characteristics
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 Flyway, for example San Francisco Bay, and Atlantic Flyway, for example on Lake Mattamuskeet and the Chesapeake Bay.

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