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Canvasback

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Latin: Aythya valisineria
Average length: M 21", F 20"
Average weight: M 2.7 lbs., F 2.5 lbs.

Description: Male canvasbacks have a chestnut-red head and neck, a black breast, grayish back, black rump and blackish-brown tail. The sides, flank and belly are white, while the wing coverts are grayish and vermiculated with black. The bill is blackish and the legs and feet are bluish-gray. The iris is bright red in the spring, but duller in the winter. Female canvasbacks have a light brown head and neck, grading into a darker brown chest and foreback. The sides, flanks and back are grayish-brown. The bill is blackish and the legs and feet are bluish-gray.


Breeding: Canvasbacks breed in the Prairie Pothole Region of North America. They prefer to nest over water on permanent prairie marshes surrounded by emergent vegetation, such as cattails and bulrushes, which provide protective cover. Other important breeding areas are the sub-arctic river deltas in Saskatchewan and the interior of Alaska. Female canvasbacks lay an average of 10 eggs and female redheads often parasitize their nests.


Migrating and Wintering: Canvasbacks migrate through the Mississippi Flyway to wintering grounds in the mid-Atlantic United States and the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (LMAV), or the Pacific Flyway to wintering grounds along the coast of California. Historically, the Chesapeake Bay wintered the majority of canvasbacks, but with the recent loss of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the bay, their range has shifted south towards the LMAV. Brackish estuarine bays and marshes with abundant SAV and invertebrates are ideal wintering habitat for canvasbacks.


Population: The canvasback population is continuing to rebound from the low levels experienced in the late 1980s and early '90s caused by loss of breeding/wintering habitat and lead poisoning due to ingestion of spent shot while feeding (this threat should gradually disappear with the lead shot ban). In 2009, a population survey by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife showed an increase in canvasbacks from 488,000 to 662,000, after a hunting ban on the birds during the 2008-'09 waterfowl season.


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