King eider

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King eider
King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) (13667616745).jpg
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.


This species is smaller than the common eider. The male is unmistakable with its mostly black body, buff-tinged white breast and multicoloured head. The head, nape and neck are a pale bluish grey. The cheek is pale green. The bill, separated rom the face by a thin black line, is red with a white nail and a large, distinctive yellow knob. Some tertials are curved up and form "spurs" along the back.[2] The drake's call is a deep cooing, while hens give various croaks and quacks.

The female (occasionally colloquially referred to as a "queen eider"[3]) 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.

Standard Measurements[2][4]
length 527–610 mm (20.75–24 in)
weight 1,670 g (3.68 lb)
wingspan 890 mm (35 in)
wing 264–283 mm (10.4–11.1 in)
tail 81–87.5 mm (3.19–3.44 in)
culmen 26–30 mm (1.0–1.2 in)
tarsus 46.5–50 mm (1.83–1.97 in)

Range, Feeding and Breeding[edit]

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.

Breeding is non-colonial, with the female incubating 4–7 eggs for 22 to 23 days. The young are raised collectively by the females.[2]


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.



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Somateria spectabilis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c Godfrey, W. Earl (1966). The Birds of Canada. Ottawa: National Museum of Canada. p. 77. 
  3. ^ "An Icelandic Birding Diary". March 2006. 
  4. ^ Sibley, David Allen (2000). The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Knopf. p. 95. ISBN 0-679-45122-6. 

Identification and ageing[edit]

External links[edit]