Two Large Dabbling Ducks

By Dave Hanks

Both the PINTAIL and CANVASBACK are large, meaty ducks. In fact the popularity of the Canvasback as a restaurant item almost made the species extinct because of commercial hunting. Conservation has allowed the bird to make a slow recovery. It is a large diving/dabbling duck that breeds in prairie potholes. It likes the tubers of Sego Pond Weed, which usually makes up 90% of its diet. The Canvasback is identified by its red head and neck, white back, and the sloping profile of its face and beak – a trait that is distinctly different from other ducks.

The Northern Pintail is widely spread over three continents. It breeds in the northern wetlands of North America, Europe, and Asia. The identification markings of this species are its white neck and a brown head. It has a narrow white stripe that tapers up the neck along the side of its brown head. Long, pointed posterior feathers give this duck its name. These two black tail feathers resemble a twig, and are especially noticeable when the bird is in flight. The female Pintail, like the Killdeer, will pretend injury to lead a predator away from her nest.

These ducks are highly migratory, and the protection of wetlands along their flight route, for resting and feeding, are essential for their survival. Also, wetland conservation benefits many other species besides ducks. Chesapeake Bay is a top wintering area for ducks, especially Canvasbacks. In fact, about a tenth of the Canvasback population winters there.

Dabbling ducks do a “bottoms up”, while feeding – giving watchers a good look at their posteriors and feet.

(Northern Pintail – Top – Canvasback – Bottom)