Captive canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria) were maintained ad libitum on five diets during the winters of 1978-79 and 1979-80 to evaluate the effects of varying protein and energy levels on feed intake and condition. Diets were formulated to simulate either a natural diet high in invertebrates or one high in vegetation. Two diets low in protein and energy simulated stress diets. Feed intake during the 1979-80 winter, when diets varied the most, was 30% higher for canvasbacks fed the low energy (1543 kcal/kg) diet than for canvasbacks fed the high energy (3638 kcal/kg) diet. Body weight of males and females did not differ between groups fed different diets, but there were seasonal differences (P(O.05) for both sexes aggregated across diets. Feed intake and body weights were greatest in November and April and least in January and February. Canvasbacks lost weight and ate less during the most stressful periods despite ad libitum feed supplies. No differences could be detected in the behavior of captive canvasbacks as a result of the diets they received. Differences due to season and sex were observed for some behaviors. Inactivity increased (P(0.05) during the winter apparently as a mechanism to conserve energy. Overall, captive canvasbacks were able to maintain themselves during winter on diets with as little as 10% protein and 1543 kcal/kg provided adequate quantities of food were available. Availability of low energy food (e.g. clams) may be the limiting factor in regard to winter survival of wild canvasbacks. The distribution and abundance of canvasbacks in some wintering areas ultimately has been influenced by the quantity and probably the quality of available nutrients. Data from this study indicate that canvasbacks are unable to adjust intake rates to compensate for low energy foods and may subsequently store less fat or modify behavior and microclimate. However, decreased weight, feed intake, and activity of ducks fed ad libitum rations occurred in mid-winter irrespective of diet quality and appeared to be an endogenous component of their annual cycle which persists in captivity. These changes apparently have a selective advantage of increasing the probability of survival in ducks by decreasing energy expenditure during periods of winter stress.