Canvasbacks and buffleheads spotted on Boomer Lake

So I finally managed to get a decent picture or two of another winter resident on Boomer Lake: the canvasback.

I’d been noticing the ducks on and off on my winter walks, but never had my longer camera lens with me. Since I haven’t been getting up to the lake early, by the time I do get up there and potentially spot them–they’re closer to the middle of the lake. This makes it a little difficult to get a decent picture (unless I have the longer lens with me).

The canvasbacks are usually mixed in with other waterfowl on the lake (like the above picture with them intermingling with buffleheads), though sometimes one or two ‘break-away’ from the larger flock and I can get ‘individual’ pictures.

Hopefully this spring (or possibly next fall), I can catch a larger group of them together as they either head off for their summer grounds, or show up fo the winter.

So how can one identify the canvasback?

In terms of coloring–during the breeding season, the males have a chestnut brown head and neck, black chest and rear, and a whitish body. The females have a pale brown head, neck, chest, and rear with a grayish body.

Male canvasback ducks spotted on Boomer Lake

During the non-breeding months, the heads and necks of the males ‘dull’ from the chestnut brown to a dark brown (but are still ‘darker’ brown than the females).

If you’re close enough (or have a really good zoom lens for your camera)–one telling difference between the two sexes is the eyes–the males have red eyes and the females have dark brown/black eyes.

Close-up of a male canvasback

While it’s hard to see on the above picture of the male canvasbacks–the one in the front was ‘looking’ towards me in profile, and you can just barely see the bright red eyes.

So where can one spot a canvasback?

Canvasbacks can be found throughout most of North America at any point during the year. The only state that you probably won’t find one in is Maine.

North American migration map for the canvasback duck. Map (c) birds of the world

The summer (breeding) ground includes Alaska, parts of Canada, the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota, some very small pockets within Nebraska, and then several other states within the Rocky Mountains.

They’ll make their nests on marshes, bays, and ponds in the north. When possible, they’ll pick areas that have dense borders of cattails and other grasses to help hid their nests, but will nest on open marshes as well.

They’re only found ‘year-round’ in a small area of Colorado, and possibly Oregon. Majority of the US falls within their migration or winter grounds.

They can be found in Oklahoma throughout the winter months (basically from mid/late fall migration to early/mid spring migration), on various lakes and rivers within the state.

Throughout the rest of their winter grounds, they can be found on both fresh and saltwater—from lagoons, rivers, ponds, and lakes to estuaries and marshes to flooded agricultural fields.

So what do canvasback ducks eat?

They have a varied diet, being omnivores. During the summer/breeding months, they’ll eat both plants (seeds and tubers) and animals (mussels, and other aquatic insects and invertebrates). Though during hte winter months and migration time, they will usually stick with eating aquatic plants.

They’re ‘diving’ ducks, and are able to dive to the bottom of lakes, ponds, and lagoons to munch on the tubers and roots of aquatic plants.

Canvasbacks ‘cleaning’ themselves on Boomer Lake

The above picture is the only one that also possibly shows female canvasbacks as well–the ‘lighter’ brown headed ones. Since females have ‘grayish’ feathers–it is sometimes hard to distinguish from the males (unless it’s obviously a ‘bright’ white).

What are some odd facts about the canvasback?

The species name for the canvasback (valisineria) comes from the genus for wild celery (Vallisneria americana), which is the preferred food during the winter months. Though they will eat other aquatic plants if no wild celery can be found.

They’re strong fliers–having been clocked up to almost 60 miles per hour in flight.

They spend most of the time on the water, and this includes sleeping.

Males will rest ‘on-land’ (specifically islands within the wetlands of central and western Canada) when they go through their summer molt before heading south for the winter.

Females will incubate the eggs and take care of the ducklings (which includes feeding).

I have a couple of photography goals: getting a good picture of a large flock of canvasbacks arriving/leaving on migration, a close-up picture of both a male and female (to see the eyes), and then possibly traveling north to get a picture of a group of ducklings with their mother.