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Do You Know What a Canvasback Is?

A person could simply say that a canvasback is a duck, but that certainly wouldn’t give a great deal of information. As ducks go, canvasbacks are interesting.

Canvasback ducks (Aythya valisineria) are about the same length as a mallard, but they have a stout, dense body. As such, they are the largest duck in North America. These ducks often weigh about three and a half pounds.

These are diving ducks that often take their food from the bottom of shallow lakes. Most of that food consists of water plants; leaves, roots, tubers, and so forth. They do occasionally eat snails or insect larvae, but the diet is dominated by plant material. Probably because of this, they are said to be the best tasting kind of duck.

Canvasbacks usually build a large nest in reed beds and cattails that grow in open water. This gives them some protection against predation. They especially tend to breed in bodies of water in prairie states and provinces. They breed as far north as Alaska and Northwest Canada.

They usually lay around 10 eggs, though there can be as few as a half-dozen or as many as a dozen.

Canvasbacks get their name from the white to tan color of the back of the male, which contrasts with the chestnut red head. The bill is black and the eyes are red. The feet and legs are sort of bluish gray.

The head and bill are sloping, wedged shaped and this is an identifier for this species of duck.

The legs of a canvasback are set well back on the body, which helps them when it comes to diving and they may remain submerged for up to a minute. However, this body arrangement also means that they walk on land with some difficulty and awkwardly at best.

The canvasback is a rather good looking duck that is commonly seen in the northern US and Canada. It is definitely good eating and it is also interesting in its diving habits.

  • Have you ever heard of canvasback ducks before?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Have you ever eaten canvasback duck?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I don’t like the taste of duck

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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17 Comments

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    • Unfortunately, you aren’t likely to see them in Florida, either. These are large ducks, but they are mostly found in the west, midwest, mountain states, and up through Canada to Alaska. They do migrate, but not nearly as far as many other birds.

  1. I live in Quebec so I have never seen this type of duck, altough there are seveal different ducks around. It is an unusual looking one with that white patch and dark brown neck. Those red eyes are either hypnotizing or scary depending on the person who sees them. I did eat duck once (I do not know which one) and I enjoyed it (sorry to the vegetarian and environmentalist). It was cooked by a coordinator with whom I worked with in ICU a long time ago and she was part First Nations (I do not remember her tribe) and white. She had also made bear stew, moose something (my memory is fading) and other delicacies. Everything was delicious but the bear was slightly hard to chew. Nonetheless it was a great spread… Thanks for introducing this duck to me and the other Virilyans.

    • Yes, the canvasback would be seen west of you, in Saskatchewan, Alberta, BC, Yukon, and Northwest Territories.

      Bear meat tends to be tough if the bear is older. It can also be greasy and fatty, rather like pork, particularly if it is later in the year. I like moose, elk, and venison.

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