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Aythya valisineria

Male canvasbacks have a rusty red head and neck, a black breast and a white body. (babyruthinmd/Flickr)
Male canvasbacks have a rusty red head and neck, a black breast and a white body. (babyruthinmd/Flickr)

The canvasback is a large diving duck with a distinctive long, sloping facial profile. It visits the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers from autumn through spring.


  • Head slopes into its long, dark bill, giving it a distinctive silhouette
  • Varies in color depending on sex
  • Males have a rusty red head and neck, a black breast, a white body and a black tail
  • Females have a brownish head and chest, a whitish body and a brownish tail
  • Grows 18-22 inches long


  • Found in shallow, vegetated areas on the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers
  • Large flocks often congregate over deeper, open waters


  • Visits the Bay region beginning in December
  • Leaves in spring to spend the summer in the Prairie Pothole region of North and South Dakota and southern Canada




  • Takes off by running across the water’s surface
  • One of the fastest flying ducks, reaching speeds of 55 miles per hour in the air
  • Can be identified in flight by its white body and black chest


  • Usually quiet during non-breeding season

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Begins courting and forming pairs in early spring, before it leaves the Bay region for its northern breeding grounds
  • The oldest recorded canvasback was 22 years old

Other Facts:

  • Gets part of its scientific name, valisineria, from the scientific name of wild celery, Vallisneria americana, its favorite food
  • The largest diving duck species
  • Canvasbacks are powerful swimmers. However, like other diving ducks, they are clumsy on land because their legs are located far back on the body.
  • Nearly half of North America’s canvasbacks used to winter in the Chesapeake Bay region. That figure has since declined to about 20 percent because of lack of available food. However, canvasback populations appear to be slowly recovering due to better protection measures.

Sources and Additional Information:


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