Photo: Jari Peltomaki/Vireo

King Eider

Somateria spectabilis

A big sea-duck of Arctic waters. Well adapted to frigid climates, diving and swimming underwater in seas near the freezing point, resting on ice floes. In its normal range, generally in large flocks, with the brown females and immatures outnumbering the strikingly ornate adult males. South of their main range, single King Eiders may associate with flocks of Common Eiders.
Conservation status Abundant in its remote northern range, total population running to several million. Like other Arctic birds, vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Rocky coasts, ocean. Nests on high arctic tundra, both along coast and around freshwater lakes far inland. In winter on ocean, mostly in far north, including around edge of pack ice. Less tied to coast than Common Eider, may occur farther inland in summer and farther offshore in winter. Rarely on fresh water in winter, as on the Great Lakes.
A big sea-duck of Arctic waters. Well adapted to frigid climates, diving and swimming underwater in seas near the freezing point, resting on ice floes. In its normal range, generally in large flocks, with the brown females and immatures outnumbering the strikingly ornate adult males. South of their main range, single King Eiders may associate with flocks of Common Eiders.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female
  • immature male (1st winter)
  • adult male, nonbreeding
  • immature male (1st summer)
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult male and female, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly underwater. Often forages in deep water and may dive more than 150' below surface.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-7. Pale olive. Incubation is by female only, 22-24 days. Young: leave nest shortly after hatching and go to water. Female tends young, but young find all their own food. Several broods of young often join (in group called "creche"), accompanied by several adult females. Age at first flight not known, probably 50+ days.


Young

leave nest shortly after hatching and go to water. Female tends young, but young find all their own food. Several broods of young often join (in group called "creche"), accompanied by several adult females. Age at first flight not known, probably 50+ days.

Diet

Mostly mollusks. Diet varies with season. Mollusks are among main foods at most times. Also eaten are crustaceans, insects, echinoderms, and some plant material. Insect larvae may be main foods in summer.


Nesting

Most pairs are formed in spring, during migration or near breeding grounds. Several males may court one female, surrounding her on water. Displays of male include turning head rapidly from side to side, rearing up out of water while rotating head, flapping wings, also various head movements accompanied by cooing calls. Faster displays than in Common Eider. Nest site usually on raised dry ground not far from water. Nest is a shallow depression lined with bits of 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

Spring migration begins very early, flocks moving north over mostly frozen seas by early April. Those going to central Canadian Arctic apparently go around Alaska and northeast Canada, rather than flying overland. Although main wintering concentrations are very far north, winter strays have reached Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, southern California.

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Migration

Spring migration begins very early, flocks moving north over mostly frozen seas by early April. Those going to central Canadian Arctic apparently go around Alaska and northeast Canada, rather than flying overland. Although main wintering concentrations are very far north, winter strays have reached Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, southern California.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A guttural croaking.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Diving Ducks Duck-like Birds

King Eider

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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