Driving home Wednesday afternoon, on a stock tank right beside State Highway 16, (the Texas forts trail), there was almost a hundred pintail ducks, or sprigs, crowded into the less than half acre tank. Pictures of the ducks taking to air with their white plumage, would be “neat” for my blog, so making a mental note to remember my camera and stop by on Thursday afternoon and take, hopefully, some action shots, the only ducks sighted were these 2, male, canvasbacks, or “cans”.
According to Wikipedia, traditionally, in the winter, the Chesapeake Bay on our east coast, supported the majority of canvasbacks, Aythya valisineria, but because of the loss of aquatic vegetation in the bay, their range has shifted to the south and west, to the lower Mississippi valley. It’s interesting that valisineria is the scientific name of wild celery, canvasback’s food of choice, but market hunters and habitat loss has all but eliminated this fine, table duck. After one duck hunt, my mom cooked several red heads that are very similar to “cans” and, far from it, those red heads weren’t “fine table fare”!
The recent severe winter storms that we have encountered must have pushed these ducks over and down to us. Having hunted for years on the prairies and saltwater bays of the upper and mid Texas coast, these 2 “cans” are the first two that I have seen up close. Years past, the breeding stocks fell to alarming levels, and most years the season was closed on these big ducks or the limit was one male of the species. They were rare and in over 30 years of duck hunting I never shot one and only saw one killed.
Identification of this canvasback was easy because of his “slanty” bill, while a red head duck’s head is a more rounded, traditional duck shape. Male red heads and canvasbacks are very similar in coloration, so in flight, look for the “slanty” bill and head shape.