A Canvasback is a fun bird to see while bird watching. Below are some tips to help you identify Canvasbacks. We have also put together a list of fun Canvasback t-shirts, Canvasback bird patches, birdhouses, bird feeders, binoculars, stickers, and other fun bird-watching items.
Often called the aristocrat of ducks, the Canvasback holds its long sloping forehead high with a distinguished look. Its common name can be traced to early European inhabitants’ assertion that its back is canvas-like in color. They can be located in the continental United States.
Description and Identification
These large ducks are admired by bird-lovers for their elegant beauty. Male Canvasbacks are 19-
22 inches long, with a wingspan of 31-35 inches. The size of these birds is almost similar to that of
mallards, but these birds are slightly heavier — they approximately weigh 2.5 pounds.
Canvasbacks have characteristic long and elegant necks and wedge-shaped bills. The underparts
of male Canvasbacks are white in color, and they have chestnut heads and necks. Their tail
feathers and buttocks are black. Although the plumage of females resembles the males it is much
more subtle. Apart from the subdued plumage, males can be differentiated from females by
observing their larger size. Younglings have completely brown plumage.
Canvasback Color Pattern
Breeding males have a chestnut head and neck set off against a black chest, whitish body, and black rear. Females are pale brown in contrast and have a grayish rather than white body. However in some seasons for example late summer and early fall, males have brown heads and necks with a paler body. Males have red eyes while females have dark eyes.
Canvasback Size and Shape
The Canvasback is a large big-headed diving duck with a gently sloping forehead and a stout neck. Its long bill meets the sloping forehead creating a seamless look from the top of the crown to the tip of the bill.
For both sexes other measurements may include:
- Length: 18.9-22.1 in (48-56cm)
- Weight 30.4-56.0 oz (862-1588g)
- Wingspan: 31.1-35.0 in (79-89 cm)
- Canvasbacks are diving ducks at home in the water.
- They sleep on the water with their bill tucked under their wing and they nest on floating mats of vegetation.
- To get airborne, Canvasbacks need a running start, but once in the air, they are strong and fast fliers.
- They are very social birds outside breeding season; they gather in large rafts by the thousands.
Canvasbacks are opportunistic ducks that can eat anything that is available to them. Although
these ducks are omnivores, 80% of their diet is based on plants. Especially during winter and
migration, they depend on aquatic vegetation such as roots, buds, rhizomes, and mussels for the
plant portion of their diet — they also include clams and snails during migration. Canvasbacks
have a more varied diet in the breeding season, which includes caddisfly larvae, dragonfly nymphs,
seeds, buds, midge larvae, and snails. These ducks forage in the mornings and evenings in large
flocks. Canvasbacks can dive up to 5 meters deep in search of prey. These diving ducks not only
hunt their prey underwater but also on the water surface and in the air.
Their diet comprises of seeds, buds roots, snails and insect larvae.
Canvasbacks are commonly found in potholes, woodlands, and grasslands during the breeding
season. They prefer areas with the presence of dense vegetation nearing shallow waterbodies.
During autumn and spring, these ducks migrate to areas that have an abundant availability of
food. Estuaries, freshwater lakes, coastal bays, and river deltas are aquatic areas that suit these
During their breeding season, Canvasbacks can be found in lakes’ deep-water marshes, bays, and ponds. In winter they may be found in deep freshwater lakes and coastal waters.
Range and Migration
Canvasbacks are the largest diving ducks in North America. They are widespread throughout the
region. Their breeding range begins in Colorado and Nevada in the U.S., and extends north
through British Columbia, Saskatchewan, territories in the northwest, Yukon, and ends at Central
Alaska. The breeding range of these ducks has consistently been extending farther and farther
northwards. These migratory birds move southwards during winter through the coastal Pacific
North-west, ending at Mexico, and Baja California.
Canvasback Life Cycle
Male and female Canvasbacks form mating pairs before reaching their breeding grounds. The female lays 7-10 olive-green eggs in a nest of reeds and grass. The female incubates the eggs and cares for the young. The eggs hatch in about 24 days and the ducklings fledge when they are 56-70 days old.
Canvasbacks form pairs in the middle of their spring migration. They formed pairs to bond together for
a season before parting ways. One female canvasback can have several suitors which attempt to
court her by courtship displays and mating calls. Female Canvasbacks also use courtship displays
in order to test the male’s ability to provide food and compete for space. Females choose the
nest sites around the same range every year. Often nests are built in water that is surrounded by
dense vegetation, but they might also be built on land if the area is well protected. Canvasbacks
lay about 5-11 green eggs every brood, which need to be incubated for 24-29 days. These ducks
raise only one brood annually, but they might re-nest if the previous brood was unsuccessful.
Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes
At Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.
Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Canvasbacks
The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Canvasbacks are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.
If you love the Canvasback you should purchase a Bird Watching Academy & Camp T-shirt. To help support bird conservation we donate 10 percent to bird conservation activities.
Canvasback Iron On Patches
Kids, Youth, and Adults love to collect our Bird Watching Academy & Camp iron-on patches. Our bird-watching patches help you keep track of the birds you have seen and identified. You can also display the patches on our Bird Watching Academy & Camp banners.
The Canvasback is a great iron-on patch to start your collection with. The patches are durable and can be sewn on or ironed on to just about anything.
Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Canvasback. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.
Bird Feeders for Canvasbacks
There are many types of bird feeders. Here are our favorite bird feeders for your backyard. We use all of these bird feeders currently. Kids will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. Using this collection of bird feeders will provide a wide variety and many types of birds.
Best Bird Houses for Canvasbacks
There are many types of birdhouses. Building a birdhouse is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 birdhouses have become our favorites. Getting a birdhouse for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these birdhouses but they have been worth the higher price and look great.