Length: 21 inches, Wing span: 29 inches
Despite being quite widespread in winter, the Canvasback has a much smaller population than most other ducks, and in drought years it may not nest at all. The Canvasback’s preferred winter diet of buds and tubers of underwater plants restricts it to relatively deep marshes and ponds that do not easily dry up.
As a member of the group of ducks known as diving ducks, the Canvasback’s legs are set well back on its body to make it efficient at swimming and diving. This same adaptation also makes it very poor at walking, which it seldom does.
Similar in appearance to the smaller Redhead.
On this page
Comparing Male and Female
Male Canvasback. Canvasbacks have the same reddish head, black chest and pale side and back as the Redhead. Canvasbacks are larger and have a large bill and slopping forehead.
Females have a similar color patterns as the males, albeit much less strongly marked. The large, slopping bill is a give-away.
Male in courtship display. Note the red eye.
Preening or perhaps scratching an itch.
Females may show a pale area around the eye.
Note the long bill and slopping forehead. Belly and under-wing linings do not show sharp contrast.
Canvasbacks and other diving ducks lack the colorful speculum seen on most of the dabbling ducks.
The relatively long neck and slopping bill and head are distinctive.
Flaps down as this female comes in for a landing.
To Wrap It Up
Canvasbacks are medium to large-sized diving ducks with a distinctive, sloping profile and a reddish-brown head with a black chest and a white body. They have long, narrow bills that are black in males and grayish-blue in females. Their wings are broad and pointed, and they have strong, webbed feet that are set far back on their body.
Compared to other diving ducks, Canvasbacks have a unique head shape, with a distinctive sloping forehead that extends down to their long, narrow bill. They also have a larger body size and a more streamlined profile than many other diving ducks. In addition, their reddish-brown head and black chest make them easily identifiable, especially in flight.