Species, Age and Sex Identification of Ducks Using Wing Plumage


Age and sex determination is probably easier for canvasbacks than for any other species. All upper wing coverts and tertials on adult males are so heavily flecked and/or vermiculated as to cause the entire wing to appear white. Wings of other canvasbacks vary from gray-brown to heavily frosted gray. During the hunting season, a high fraction of immatures replace both immature tertials and tertial coverts with adult-type feathers which differ markedly from the remaining immature coverts. These form several combinations with other coverts: 1) immature male or immature female tertial coverts always indicate immatures, 2) adult male or adult female tertial coverts but all remaining coverts immature male or female also indicate immatures, 3) entire upper wing covered by adult male or adult female-type feathers indicate adults.

Wing Character Male Female
Adult Immature Immature Adult
TertialsTips usually rounded; overall appearance is white due to heavy vermiculation over entire length of feathersTips usually frayed to a point; overall appearance grayTips usually rounded; overall appearance gray, flecked with white near tips
Lightly vermiculated to heavily flecked with whitePlain to faintly flecked with white near tips
After molt: Similar to adult male and much whiter than other wing feathersAfter molt: Similar to adult female
Greater tertial covertsBroadly rounded, not frayed and so heavily vermiculated as to appear whiteNarrower, and often frayed to a pointBroadly rounded, not frayed and heavily flecked with white near tips of individual coverts
Vary from heavy to light evenly distributed fleckingVary from barely discernable flecking to unflecked
After molt: Similar to adult male and much whiter than other wing feathersAfter molt: Similar to adult female
Middle and lesser secondary covertsOverall appearance white; heavily vermiculated; broadly rounded shapeTend to narrow toward tip giving them a slightly trapezoidal shapeOverall appearnace heavily frosted gray, well flecked with flecking generally concentrated near ends of individual coverts; broadly rounded shape
Heavily flecked to lightly vermiculated; overall appearance heavily frosted grayPlain to lightly flecked; overall appearance gray to brownish gray

JPG-Adult male canvasback JPG-Adult female canvasback JPG-Immature male canvasback JPG-Immatue female canvasback

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