Although this duck’s rufous-red is one of its most striking field marks, the male Canvasback is not the only duck in North America with this pattern of coloration. In many parts of its range, this species occurs side by side with the closely-related Redhead (Aythya americana), and a couple field marks must be noted in order to distinguish the two. The Canvasback is slightly larger (20-24 inches), has a longer bill, and is much lighter on the back and flanks. Males have a red head and white body (resembling a sheet of blank canvas from a distance), while females are mostly light grayish-brown. The Canvasback breeds primarily in the northern Great Plains, the northern Rockies, western Canada, and Alaska. Most Canvasback populations migrate south in winter to the southern two-thirds of the United States and into Mexico. In its wintering range, this species is more common inland than the Redhead. Canvasbacks breed in lakes, ponds, marshes and bays. In winter, this species utilizes similar habitats as it does during the breeding season. In summer, Canvasbacks eat both aquatic plants and animals, such as small insects and mollusks; in winter, they feed primarily on plant matter, particularly the wild celery plant (Vallisneria americana) from which this species derives its scientific name. One of several species of “diving ducks” in North America, Redheads may be observed submerging themselves to feed on aquatic plant matter. In winter, they may also be observed in large flocks on coastal bays and lagoons. This species is primarily active during the day.
A common migrant and wintering species in estuaries and salt-marsh ponds from October to May. The back of the Canvasback is lighter in color and the head is flatter than that of the Redhead. Sexes are different.
The upper left bird is a female.
Collected By: Brent M Morgan
Locality: Neabsco, VA
Catalog ID: 277188
The bird on the lower right is a male.
Collected By: Edward J Brown
Locality: Washington, DC
Catalog ID: 220369