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.
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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.
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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.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the King Eider

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the King Eider

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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