King Eider

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Common Name: King Eider
Scientific Name: Somateria spectabilis

Size: 22 inches (55.9 cm); Wingspan: 35 inches (88.9 cm)

Habitat: Worldwide; breeds along Northern Hemisphere Arctic coasts of northeast Europe, North America and Asia. The birds spend most of the year in coastal marine ecosystems at high latitudes, and migrate to Arctic tundra to breed in June and July. It winters in arctic and subarctic marine areas, most notably in the Bering Sea, the west coast of Greenland, eastern Canada and northern Norway. It also occurs annually off the northeastern United States, Scotland and Kamchatka. Breeding areas include the Arctic coastal tundra of the north coast of Alaska.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 790,000-930,000 adult individuals. The overall population trend is decreasing, although some populations may be stable, and others have unknown trends. The species is threatened by chronic coastal oil pollution and future oil spills, especially when these occur where it forms large aggregations on the sea during the molt period, on migration or in the winter. The species is also threatened by the degradation of food resources as a result of oil exploration, by human disturbance when it is molting and on migration, and by disturbance from uncontrolled shipping (e.g. oil transportation) on its wintering grounds. In addition, the population wintering in Greenland is under serious threats from over-exploitation (10-20 % of the winter population is killed annually by hunting).

The King Eider is protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

Diet: Invertebrates; such as crustaceans, polychaete worms, and mollusks, with mussels being the favorite food. During the breeding season, Eiders feed by tipping up, probing, or diving, depending on water depth. In winter, it most commonly dives to the sea floor to take prey. Wintering birds can form large flocks on suitable coastal waters, with some flocks exceeding 100,000 birds.

Nesting: Drakes have a white neck and chest with a yellowish-buff wash over the upper breast. The body is mostly black with white sides on the rump. There are large white patches on the forewings. The forehead, crown, and nape are pearl blue and the cheeks iridescent pale green. The bill bright red with a white tip, There is a large yellow or orangish swollen knob at base of upper bill. Two feathers stick up as two small triangular black sails on back (similar to the Mandarin Duck). The legs are bright yellow, with dusky webs and black nails.

Nonbreeding males resemble the female in being brownish, but they have blackish wings and white forewing patches. The bill is duller than in breeding and the lobe smaller and with dark brownish spots.

Females are mostly deep reddish brown, barred with black. The feathers on the sides and flanks have black crescent or U-shaped black bars and dark centers. The bill is gray, and not enlarged like the male's, with a rounded edge of feathering at the bill base. The feet are greenish gray to yellowish, with dark webs.

Immatures are like adult female. First-year male similar to the female, but has pale chest, a light eye line, and an unswollen, orange or yellowish bill.

The nest is a slight hollow on dry ground and is usually positioned near water in the open or under the cover of driftwood, grass hummocks or rocks. They nest in various tundra habitats, generally in low marshy areas. 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. She will not feed very often during the 22-24 day incubation period. She lays four to seven eggs in a scrape on the ground lined with grass and down.

Cool Facts: The female of this species is often referred to as the “Queen” Eider.

King Eiders can forage on sea beds up to 25 m (82 ft) deep.

Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume II: Diving and Sea Ducks

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