Photo: Jari Peltomaki/Vireo

Steller's Eider

Polysticta stelleri

The smallest of the eiders. More agile than the others in flight, and less clumsy on land; floats buoyantly on the water, often with its tail cocked up. Its distribution in the Arctic and Subarctic is centered on the Bering Sea. Sociable at most times of year. Flies in tightly packed flocks, and often feeds in compact groups as well. When foraging on the sea, all the birds in a flock may dive at the same time. Lone Steller's will sometimes associate with flocks of Harlequin Ducks or other divers.
Conservation status The Alaskan population has dropped sharply in recent decades, but the causes for this decline are not well understood. Numbers are also declining in at least some areas of Arctic Russia and Scandinavia. Like other Arctic breeders, may be especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Coasts, ocean. In breeding season on low-lying tundra with many lakes and ponds, often some distance inland. At other seasons on ocean, in areas with clear water, as along rocky shores or around edges of pack ice.
The smallest of the eiders. More agile than the others in flight, and less clumsy on land; floats buoyantly on the water, often with its tail cocked up. Its distribution in the Arctic and Subarctic is centered on the Bering Sea. Sociable at most times of year. Flies in tightly packed flocks, and often feeds in compact groups as well. When foraging on the sea, all the birds in a flock may dive at the same time. Lone Steller's will sometimes associate with flocks of Harlequin Ducks or other divers.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female
  • adult male, breeding
Feeding Behavior

During most of year forages at sea by diving and swimming underwater. In summer, may forage in shallow water by wading or swimming, with head submerged or dabbling at surface.


Eggs

7-8, sometimes 5-10. Olive buff. Incubation by female only, incubation period unknown. Young: Leave nest shortly after hatching and go to water. Female tends young, but young find all their own food. 2 or more broods of young sometimes join under care of 1 or more females. Age at first flight not known.


Young

Leave nest shortly after hatching and go to water. Female tends young, but young find all their own food. 2 or more broods of young sometimes join under care of 1 or more females. Age at first flight not known.

Diet

varies with season and habitat. Diet at sea is mostly mollusks and crustaceans, but also echinoderms, polychaete worms, small fish. On tundra in summer, eats many aquatic insects, also some plant material such as pondweeds and crowberries.


Nesting

Pairs formed in winter flocks. In courtship, several males may surround one female. Males' displays include rearing up out of water, turning head rapidly from side to side, tossing head back with rapid motion; may lead to courtship flight, with several males in pursuit of female. Nest site is on ground near water, on open tundra or surrounded by low scrub. Nest, built by female, is shallow depression lined with bits of plant material and large amounts of down.

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

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

Migration

Most of world's population (from Alaska and Siberia) winters in southern Bering Sea, although some go west to winter off northern Scandinavia. Migrates in flocks.

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Migration

Most of world's population (from Alaska and Siberia) winters in southern Bering Sea, although some go west to winter off northern Scandinavia. Migrates in flocks.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Male has a weak moan similar to Common Eider's; female makes low growling notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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