Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Common Eider

Somateria mollissima

A big, lethargic, heavy-bodied duck of northern coastlines. Often seen floating offshore in flocks of up to several thousand birds. Sociable in breeding season also, and often nests in colonies. Eider down, famous for its insulating qualities, is used in large amounts in the nest lining of these ducks, helping to keep the eggs warm in frigid northern climates. In some places, such as Iceland, the down is harvested commercially at coastal "eider farms," where the wild birds are encouraged to nest in sheltered nooks built for them.
Conservation status Abundant, total population probably several million. Local concentrations vulnerable to oil spills and other forms of pollution, and many populations may be vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Rocky coasts, shoals; in summer, also islands, tundra. Very close to coastlines at all seasons. For nesting favors islands or coasts with rocky shorelines, either barren or forested, or coastal lagoons in tundra regions. At other seasons on shallow oceanic waters, usually not far from shore. Rarely on fresh water.
A big, lethargic, heavy-bodied duck of northern coastlines. Often seen floating offshore in flocks of up to several thousand birds. Sociable in breeding season also, and often nests in colonies. Eider down, famous for its insulating qualities, is used in large amounts in the nest lining of these ducks, helping to keep the eggs warm in frigid northern climates. In some places, such as Iceland, the down is harvested commercially at coastal "eider farms," where the wild birds are encouraged to nest in sheltered nooks built for them.
Photo Gallery
  • adult female
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult male, breeding
  • immature male (1st year)
  • adult male, nonbreeding
  • adult males and female
  • adult female
  • adult male, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly underwater; also forages in shallow water by up-ending or by swimming with only head submerged. May feed by day or night, most often on falling tide or at low tide.


Eggs

3-5, sometimes 1-8. Olive-green to olive-gray. Incubation by female only, 24-25 days, sometimes 23-30 days. Young: Leave nest shortly after hatching and go to water. Female tends young, but young find all their own food. Several broods often join in group called "creche," accompanied by several adult females. Age at first flight 65-75 days.


Young

Leave nest shortly after hatching and go to water. Female tends young, but young find all their own food. Several broods often join in group called "creche," accompanied by several adult females. Age at first flight 65-75 days.

Diet

Mainly mollusks. Feeds especially on mussels and other bivalves; also some crabs and other crustaceans, echinoderms, aquatic insects, small fish. On breeding grounds eats more insects and some plant material.


Nesting

Several males may court one female. Displays of male mostly involve exaggerated movements of head, accompanied by low cooing calls; also rearing up out of water, flapping wings. Nest site on ground, usually somewhat sheltered by rocks or plants, close to water. Occasionally on cliff ledge. Often breeds in colonies; may be associated with Arctic Terns or other birds. Nest is a shallow depression lined with plant material and with large amounts of down.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Northernmost breeders migrate rather long distances, southernmost breeders are more sedentary; total winter range does not extend very far beyond southern edge of nesting range. Less likely than King Eider to appear far to the south. Hudson Bay birds remain there all year on open leads in pack ice.

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Migration

Northernmost breeders migrate rather long distances, southernmost breeders are more sedentary; total winter range does not extend very far beyond southern edge of nesting range. Less likely than King Eider to appear far to the south. Hudson Bay birds remain there all year on open leads in pack ice.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
During courtship the male gives a hollow moan and various cooing notes. Female quacks.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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