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Canvasback Duck
Aythya valisineria

The canvasback is a colorful diving duck found only in North America. The body of the male is grayish-white; he has a black chest and tail, a striking rust-colored head and neck and bright red eyes. The female is less colorful with a speckled gray body, a brown head and neck, and brown eyes.

Winter buds and rhizomes of Wild Celery (Valisneria americana) comprise a favorite food during the non-breeding period , hence the bird’s Latin name. The canvasback also eats water lilies, pond weeds sedges, and seeds, as well as some mollusks, small crustaceans, snails, fish and insects.

It arches its bill straight up and then plunges it down into the water in order to dig up mollusks. The canvasback’s method of eating seeds is actually hazardous to the bird, since they strain the bottom mud for seeds with their bill. In this way, unfortunately, they manage to ingest much lead shot resulting in lead poisoning.

The males and females form mating pairs in late winter before they arrive at their breeding grounds, generally freshwater prairie marshes and swamps. The males court the females with a cooing noise; the females respond with a Krrr-Krrr.

They nest in late April or May. The nests are hidden among reeds, cattails and bulrushes. The female lays 5-11 olive green eggs in the nest which is attached to the vegetation.

Redheads (Aythya americana) often lay their eggs in canvasback nests, making it hard to determine the number of canvasback eggs in a clutch. Female canvasbacks rarely use the nests of other species for their eggs, but will parasitize the nests of other canvasback hens.

Incubation is usually about 24 days. The ducks fledge in 56 to 68 days. The major predators of canvasbacks are raccoons and skunks, especially when the female is off the nest.

The canvasback is the least abundant of the game ducks in North America, because of habitat loss and overhunting. In the 1960’s and 1970’s prairie marshes were drained, reducing the bird’s numbers by 50%.