King eider

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King eider
Somateria spectabilis -Central Park Zoo, New York, USA -male-8a.jpg
Male at Central Park Zoo, New York, USA
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Merginae
Genus: Somateria
Species: S. spectibilis
Binomial name
Somateria spectabilis
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The king eider (pronounced /ˈ.dər/) (Somateria spectabilis) is a large sea duck that breeds along Northern Hemisphere Arctic coasts of northeast Europe, North America and Asia. The birds spend most of the year in coastal marine ecosystems at high latitudes, and migrate to Arctic tundra to breed in June and July. They lay four to seven eggs in a scrape on the ground lined with grass and down.

The king eider winters in arctic and subarctic marine areas, most notably in the Bering Sea, the west coast of Greenland, eastern Canada and northern Norway. It also occurs annually off the northeastern United States, Scotland and Kamchatka. Breeding areas include the Arctic coastal tundra of the north coast of Alaska. This species dives for benthic invertebrates, such as crustaceans, polychaete worms, and molluscs, with mussels being a favoured food. Wintering birds can form large flocks on suitable coastal waters, with some flocks exceeding 100,000 birds.

This species is smaller than the common eider. The male is unmistakable with its black body, white breast and multicoloured head. The drake's call is a deep cooing, and hens give various croaks and quacks.

The female (occasionally colloquially referred to as a "queen eider"[2]) is a brown bird, but can still be readily distinguished from all ducks except other eider species on size and structure. The head is shorter than in the common eider, and the feathering extension onto the bill is rounded, not triangular in shape.

An immature drake is typically all dark with a white breast and a yellow bill patch. Eclipse adult drakes are similar but lack the white breast.

The king eider is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

Traditional Uses[edit]

The king eider, or qengallek[pronunciation?] in Yup'ik,is a regular source of fresh meat in the spring. They begin their migration past the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in late April and are hunted in great numbers. In May, several hundred thousand king eiders pass Point Barrow in northern Alaska on their way to Alaskan and Canadian breeding grounds.



  • Suydam, R. 2000. King Eider. Birds of North America 491.
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks King Eider project
  • Merkel, F., A. Mosbech, S. Jamieson, and K. Falk. 2007. The diet of king eiders wintering in Nuuk, Southwest Greenland, with reference to sympatric wintering common eiders. Polar Biology 30:1593-1597.
  • Larned, W. W. 2007. Steller's Eider spring migration surveys Southwest Alaska 2007. Page 23. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Migratory Bird Management Office, Anchorage, Alaska.
  • Suydam, R. S., D. L. Dickson, J. B. Fadely, and L. T. Quakenbush. 2000. Population declines of King and Common Eiders of the Beaufort Sea. Condor 102:219-222
  • Alaska Migratory Bird Calendar (2008). Publication of The US Fish and Wildlife Service

Identification and ageing[edit]

  • Chandler, R. J. (1987) Identification and ageing of first-winter male King Eider British Birds 80(12): 626-7
  • Ellis, Pete (1994) Ageing and sexing of King Eiders British Birds 87(1):36-7
  • Dawson, Jane (1994) Ageing and sexing of King Eiders British Birds 87(1):37-40
  • Suddaby, D., K. D. Shaw, P. M. Ellis and Keith Brockie, on behalf of the Rarities Committee (1994) King Eiders in Britain and Ireland in 1958-90: occurrences and ageing British Birds 87(9): 418-30

External links[edit]