Living Bird Magazine
King EiderSomateria spectabilis
- ORDER: Anseriformes
- FAMILY: Anatidae
Among the waterfowl of the world, none is more ornately adorned than the male King Eider, its black-and-white plumage accented by a red-and-orange bill, pearl-blue crown, and spring-green cheek. Females are a rich marbling of rusty brown and black. King Eiders nest in tundra of the far north and winter largely at the edge of sea ice, foraging on shellfish. Their return to breeding areas in spring is spectacular: vast flocks pass by northern Alaska, a jaw-dropping phenomenon if you can get there to see it.More ID Info
Find This Bird
If you can’t get to the high Arctic to see King Eiders in summer, look for them along rocky coasts in winter. Small numbers get as far south as southern Alaska, New England, and occasionally the Great Lakes. Finding one usually requires patient scanning through large flocks of Common Eiders (in the Northeast) or flocks of other sea ducks (in the Great Lakes). Be sure to study the subtle but noticeable differences between female Common and King Eiders to make sure you don’t miss one.
- Eider Real (Spanish)
- Eider à tête grise (French)
- Cool Facts
- Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish naturalist known as the father of modern taxonomy (the scientific classification of living things) named the King Eider in 1758, in the tenth edition of his massive book called Systema Naturae (The System of Nature).
- The spring migration of the King Eider can involve huge flocks. Two observers at Point Barrow, the northernmost point of land in the United States, once counted 360,000 King Eiders passing in just 10 hours, with 113,000 of those in just 30 minutes alone! Such migrations often include other arctic-nesting seabirds as well, including Long-tailed Ducks, Steller’s, Common Eiders, and Spectacled Eiders, and Thick-billed and Common Murres.
- King Eiders migrate during daylight, in darkness, and even through thick fog. Satellite tracking in has helped scientists discover new details about these movements. Recent studies have revealed that some King Eiders migrate over land, such as the Alaska Peninsula or the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia, even moving through high-elevation mountain passes. They fly at speeds up to 40 miles per hour, faster with tailwinds.
- The King Eider forages on sea beds up to 80 feet deep.
- The female King Eider alone attends the nest. When an intruder is present, the female sits low on the nest with her head flattened on the ground. She sits tightly on the eggs and sometimes can be touched or picked up off of the nest.
- The female King Eider does not feed very often during the 22–24 day incubation period. One female did not leave her nest for 7 days before being flushed by an arctic fox.
- The oldest recorded King Eider was a female and at least 22 years, 1 month old when she was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Nunavut, Canada.