Duck Identification: Canvasback vs. Redhead

One of the most common duck identification questions I get is how to tell the difference between a Canvasback and a Redhead.

When I talk to birders who don’t have a lot of experience with duck identification I’m commonly asked how to tell the difference between Canvasbacks and Redheads. With just a little practice, it’s really not too hard to tell the difference. The following two photos will show you how to identify the males of each species.

Duck Identification: Canvasback vs. RedheadRob Ripma
Rob Ripma From a distance, it is very obvious how white the back of a Canvasback is. Also, notice how the head has a peaked appearance with a long sloping forehead.
Duck Identification: Canvasback vs. RedheadRob Ripma
Rob Ripma Unlike the clean white of a Canvasback, the Redhead has a gray back. It also has a much rounder head. The difference in shape of each bird is evident even from a distance. Also, note the Redhead’s blue bill.

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Rob Ripma
Rob Ripma, a lifelong Indiana resident, has traveled and birded extensively throughout the Americas.