Heart of America Game
Breeders' Association

Raising Canvasback Ducks

By Don Steurer, from the Heartland News, June 1999.

I have raised a lot of Canvasbacks the past few years and really enjoy them. They are a large type diving duck that does well in a collection with other ducks.

I let the Canvasback hens hatch their young most of the time, but I take the babies as soon as possible after hatching. Most of the time, the female will renest after I take the young. They are easy to raise and will start eating with no trouble. I start them on my 20% duck starter krums and swith them to duck grower pellets just as soon as they will eat them. After the birds are full feathered, I start giving them some grain, a mixture of wheat, milo, white millet and cracked corn. I feed all the young ducks greens at least four or five times a week.

Like the other ducks I raise, Canvasback ducklings are dry brooded for the first three weeks. Then they are moved to pens containing fill sand in the brooder house where they will remain for another three weeks. At the end of that time, the young Canvasbacks are moved to outside grower pens with overhead sprinklers. All of the pens where the young ducks are kept have 9 foot shade cloth over one end with 1/2" X 1" vinyl-coated wire on the first three feet of the sides of the pen and then 1" X 1" vinyl-coated wire on the next three feet of the pen. Toprite XL 1" netting covers the top of the pen.

In all the years that I have raised Canvasbacks, I have never had a hen lay in a nest box. Their first choice for a nest is in one of the many Siberian Iris flower beds or in one of the Bearded Iris or Day Lily beds. A hen will usually lay nine to ten light olive green eggs tha will hatch in about 25 1/2 days. Canvasbacks will raise their own if you let them and will do a good job at it.

A Quick Look at Some Facts About Canvasback Ducks

Compiled by Terry Smith.

Family: Anatidae

Tribe: Aythyini, Pochards

Scientific Name: Aythya valisineria

Description: During the breeding season, the head of the male is dark reddish-brown becoming brownish-black on the front of the face and the crown. The upper breast and back are black; the mantle and scapulars are pale gray with fine blackish-brown vermiculations. The lower back is grayish-brown with fine pale gray lines. The belly and sides are whitish; the rump and vent are blackish-brown. The bill is black and the legs and feet are grayish-blue. The head, neck, upper breast and the back of the females are mottled brown. The mantle is male gray with black vermiculations, the wings are dark gray and the tail and rump are dark brown. The under body parts are white becoming darker towards the rear.

Distribution: The spring and early summer range extends from central Alaska south to central Oregon and northern Utah, New Mexico and southern Nebraska. When adequate shelter and food are available, the breeding and winter range overlap. Large numbers of Canvasbacks winter in the Chesapeake Bay and San Francisco Bay areas as well as the upper Mississippi River and eastern Great Lakes region.

Habitat: Marshes with shallow waters and flooded farmlands during spring and early summer. In winter, most move to brackish or alkaline waters near the coasts.

Food: Anout 70% of the diet is vegetable matter - grasses, aquatic plants and seeds. Animal matter eaten includes dragonflies, midge larvae, caddis fly and other insects.

Breeding: Although pair bonds are formed shortly after the birds reach the breeding grounds, yearling females are less inclined to nest and may breed later than mature hens.

Nesting: A bulky but well-concealed nest is built among reeds or rushes usually in shallow water.

Clutch Size: 7 to 10 grayish-olive eggs which vary in tone from hen to hen. Many eggs and ducklings are lost to predators - mainly crows and raccoons.

Incubation: 24 to 25 days. Males abandon their mates during the early incubation period to gather on traditional molting lakes

Fledging: 58 to 68 days.

Status: Canvasback population usually show a decline in dry years. Destruction of habitat, their sensitivity to oil and other pollution sources in the wintering areas and hunting have also greatly affected the number of Canvasbacks. For reasons which are not clear, there is a high mortality rate for adult females and juveniles.

June 1999 The Heartland News, Terry Smith