Normally late to start south, canvasbacks migrate in lines and irregular V's. In feeding areas, compact flocks fly in indefinite formations. Their wingbeat is rapid and noisy; their speed is the swiftest of all our ducks. Feeding behavior is highly variable. In some areas they feed at night and spend the day rafted up in open waters; in other areas they feed inshore mornings and evenings.
On the water, body size and head shape distinguish them from scaups and redheads. Drakes croak, peep, and growl; hens have a mallard-like quack.