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The Migration of the Canvasback Duck

It’s a picture that I have been hoping to take here in the Finger Lakes for the last ten years, but I could never get close enough to really identify them with my meager camera equipment.  Last Sunday, the 13th of February, Jeanette and I were on our way to church. As we passed Ontario County Park, we spotted a huge cluster of ducks happily swimming in the water. We passed them by as we didn’t want to be late for church. On the way home from church, the ducks were still there, feeding on some bits of vegetation or mussels, bobbing up and down like a rubber duckie floating on some ice-cold bath water. I hurried home and pickup my camera.

Migrating Canvasback Ducks on Canandaigua Lake

Since it was Sunday, only a few cars were on the road. I pulled into the County parking lot and set up my camera on the monopod so I could extend the lens in order to get a decent closeup. The wind was bitter coming across the icy water. I took perhaps 20 pictures before calling it quits. Once home I took a look at the pictures in order to identify the species of ducks. They were definitely canvasback ducks, or what hunters would refer to today as “cans”.

These are migratory ducks, headed to their breeding grounds in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and even northward into Manitoba, Canada. I am a member of “Ducks Unlimited”, and this month’s Jan./Feb. issue features the canvasback duck on the front of the issue. Inside there is an article entitled, “Hail to the King! Celebrating the Canvasback In All Its Glory”. These are one of the top ducks prized by hunters as they are good tasting (I have never eaten wild duck) and were almost hunted to extinction in the late eighteen hundreds along the Chesapeake Bay flyway. Thousands were sold to restaurants for their prized meat.

Canvasback Ducks on Canandaigua Lake

 You can tell a male canvasback duck by this red neck and head, black breast, and red eye. The head of a male canvasback duck forms a triangular if you can imagine the outline of the head and lines passing to the tip of the duck’s bill. The breast feathers are black and the body of the duck is white. The tail feathers are black. The females are brown in color with a light brown head and neck, and brownish grey body feathers. They travel in large groups to their breeding grounds which are located in some reeds, right along some water. They love the water and spend most of their time in the water. You can observe them with their tails in the air as they dip their heads into the water in search of food.


Migrating Canvasback Ducks on Canandaigua Lake

 There’s lots to learn about these migrating ducks. I would suggest you google for a book or two to help identify them and to learn about their habitants. I think that they are a better forecaster of Spring here in the Finger Lakes than Punxsutawney Phil, that infamous ground hog from Pennsylvania who runs back into his den if he sees his shadow on February 1.