At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Diving Ducks, Duck-like Birds
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Open Ocean, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Southeast, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Formation, Undulating
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
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.
18-25" (46-64 cm). Adult male has orange frontal shield, powder blue head, much black on back. Female much like Common Eider but has different head shape, more scalloped look (not bars) on sides. Young male can look much like young male Common Eider but has shorter bill, more square-looking head.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Blue, Brown, Green, Orange, White, Yellow
Pointed, Short, Wedge-shaped
Songs and Calls
A guttural croaking.
Croak/Quack, Hoot, Odd
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.
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4-5, sometimes 3-7. Pale olive. Incubation is by female only, 22-24 days.
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.
Forages mainly underwater. Often forages in deep water and may dive more than 150' below surface.
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.
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.
Abundant in its remote northern range, total population running to several million. Like other Arctic birds, vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the King Eider. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
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.