THE CANVAS-BACK DUCK.

WHITE-BACK, Canard Cheval, (New Orleans), Bull-Neck, and Red Headed Bull-Neck, are common names of the famous Canvas-Back, which nests from the northern states, northward to Alaska. Its range is throughout nearly all of North America, wintering from the Chesapeake southward to Guatemala.

"The biography of this duck," says Mabel Osgood Wright, "belongs rather to the cook-book than to a bird list," even its most learned biographers referring mainly to its "eatable qualities," Dr. Coues even taking away its character in that respect when he says "there is little reason for squealing in barbaric joy over this over-rated and generally under-done bird; not one person in ten thousand can tell it from any other duck on the table, and only then under the celery circumstances," referring to the particular flavor of its flesh, when at certain seasons it feeds on vallisneria, or " water celery," which won its fame. This is really not celery at all, but an eel-grass, not always found through the range of the Canvas-Back. When this is scarce it eats frogs, lizards, tadpoles, fish, etc., so that, says Mrs. Osgood, "a certificate of residence should be sold with every pair, to insure the inspiring flavor."

     

The opinion held as to the edible qualities of this species varies greatly in different parts of the country. No where has it so high a reputation as in the vicinity of Chesapeake Bay, where the alleged superiority of its flesh is ascribed to the abundance of "water celery." That this notion is erroneous is evident from the fact that the same plant grows in far more abundance in the upper Mississippi Valley, where also the Canvas-Back feeds on it. Hence it is highly probable that fashion and imagination, or perhaps a superior style of cooking and serving, play a very important part in the case. In California, however, where the "water celery" does not grow, the Canvas-Back is considered a very inferior bird for the table.

It has been hunted on Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries with such inconsiderate greed that its numbers have been greatly reduced, and many have been driven to more southern waters.

In and about Baltimore, the Canvas-Back, like the famous terrapin, is in as high favor for his culinary excellence, as are the women for beauty and hospitality. To gratify the healthy appetite of the human animal this bird was doubtless sent by a kind Providence, none the less mindful of the creature comforts and necessities of mankind than of the purely aesthetic senses.


Back to July 1897 Contents

Home | Site Introduction | Survival Needs | Bird Identifications
Gallery & Profiles | Habitats of Birds | Bird Migration | Odds & Ends | Resources
Birds and Nature Magazine | Search