I have mentioned previously that some the earliest migrants to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and the Peninsula are waterfowl. Another interesting and beautiful member of this family is the canvasback. The male has a rusty, red head with a blackish forehead, white body, black chest and rear end. The female has a pale gray-brown body and a darker brown head. Both have a sloped forehead and a very long, tapered, black bill. This characteristic is distinctive and a good field mark because it distinguishes the canvasback from other ducks.
The canvasback is one of our largest diving ducks. It nests in the marshy ponds of the Prairies and winters in open bays and lakes often forming large rafts with other ducks such as Redheads and Ring-necked ducks.
According to the Cornell Ornithological Lab, the canvasback’s species name, Aythya valisineria, comes from the fact that it’s favorite and preferred food during the winter or non-breeding season is Vallisneria Americana or wild celery. It loves to feast on the wild celery’s winter buds and rhizomes. Rhizomes are horizontally growing, thick, underground stems that also produce shoots and roots. During the breeding season canvasbacks forage for aquatic plants, seeds, snails and insect larvae.
The canvasback population has fluctuated over the years, but its numbers have increased since the 1990s and by 2015 the population was estimated to be between 740,000 and 860,000. It is rated 11 out 20 on the Continental Concern Score (Cornell Lab). Hunters favor this duck so it is hunted widely. Even so, the oldest known canvasback is reported to have been just over 22 years old (Cornell Lab.).
It is an uncommon migrant that we see in spring and fall on the refuge and the Peninsula. Over the years it has been reported at Loomis Lake, Cape D., Ilwaco Harbor, on Baker Bay along the Stringtown Road and Leadbetter Point. The canvasback is striking in appearance, so it worth searching for during fall and spring migration. Its beauty and stately appearance will amaze you!