Posts Tagged ‘Canvasback duck’

Many female ducks are a muted shade of brown and it is sometimes difficult to determine their species. Often I have to rely on other characteristics, like the shape and color of their bills. It was on that basis that I decided that this duck that I spotted on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was a female Canvasback (Aythya valisineria).

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a canvasbacks is “a large, big-headed diving duck with a gently sloping forehead and a stout neck. Its long bill meets the sloping forehead, creating a seamless look from the top of the crown to the tip of the bill.”  Indeed, the sloping forehead was the first thing that I noted when I spotted this bird among a group of smaller scaups and ruddy ducks.

Canvasbacks are one of the many species of ducks that spend their winters with us and then fly north for breeding. They always seem to stay out in the deeper waters, so I have not yet gotten a close-up shot of a Canvasback.



© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although the old proverb asserts that “birds of a feather flock together,” I have learned the value of examining groups of floating birds, because they often include multiple species. I was examining one such group last week in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge when I spotted an obvious outlier, a duck that was larger and more brightly colored than the rest. I am pretty sure that this is a male Canvasback duck (Aythya valisineria), a species that I do not see very often and still have not seen at close range.

Canvasback duck

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The long sloping shape of the bills of these ducks in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge indicated to me that they are Canvasbacks ducks (Aythya valisineria). Most of the time I rely primarily on colors when trying to identify birds, but during the non-breeding season, many ducks share the same subdued colors, especially when viewed from a distance. This was a rare case when a single distinctive characteristic—in this case the bill—was enough for me to identify the birds with a reasonable degree of confidence.

According to Wikipedia, the duck’s common name is based on early European inhabitants of North America’s assertion that its back was a canvas-like color. In other languages it is just a white-backed duck; for example in French, morillon à dos blanc, or in Spanish, pato lomo blanco.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was observing the osprey couple on the Potomac River this past weekend, I spotted an unusual-looking duck of a species that I had never seen before. One of my fellow photographers said that he was pretty sure that it was a Canvasback duck (Aythya valisineria) and I couldn’t disagree, having no idea what a Canvasback duck looked like.

The duck was a pretty good distance away and I was looking through my telephoto lens when it decided to take off from the water. I don’t think that the duck was aware of our presence, for it initially flew toward us and parallel to the shore before veering off into the center of the river. I was able to track the duck pretty well and got some in-flight shots, including my two favorites that I am posting.

I am not one hundred percent sure of the identification and would welcome a confirmation or correction, as appropriate, from someone with more experience in identifying bird species.

canvasback_flight_blog canvasback_flight2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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