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King eider in breeding plumage
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Merginae
Genus: Somateria
Leach, 1819
Type species
Anas spectabilis (king eider)
Linnaeus, 1758
  • S. mollissima
  • S. fischeri
  • S. spectabilis

The eiders (/ˈ.dər/) are large seaducks in the genus Somateria. The three extant species all breed in the cooler latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.[2]

The down feathers of eider ducks and some other ducks and geese, are used to fill pillows and quilts—they have given the name to the type of quilt known as an eiderdown.[3]



The genus Somateria was introduced in 1819 to accommodate the king eider by the English zoologist William Leach in an appendix to John Ross's account of his voyage to look for the Northwest Passage.[4][5] The name is derived from Ancient Greek σῶμα : sōma "body" (stem somat-) and ἔριον : erion "wool", referring to eiderdown.[6]

Steller's eider (Polysticta stelleri) is in a different genus despite its name.[7]

Eider ducks are the namesake of The Barrow Duck-In.



The genus contains three species.[7]

Male Female Scientific name Common Name Distribution
S. mollissima Common eider northern coasts of Europe, North America and eastern Siberia
S. spectabilis King eider northeast Europe, North America and Asia
S. fischeri Spectacled eider coasts of Alaska and northeastern Siberia.

Two undescribed species are known from fossils, one from Middle Oligocene rocks in Kazakhstan and another from the Late Miocene or Early Pliocene of Lee Creek Mine, United States. The former may not actually belong in this genus.


  1. ^ Jarocki, F.P. (1819). Spis ptaków w gabinecie zoologicznym Królewsko Warszawskiego Uniwersytetu znayduiących się, a podług naynowszego systemu ustawionych (in Polish). Warszawa: nakł. i drukiem Zawadzkiego i Węckiego Uprzywilejowanych Drukarzy i Księgarzy Dworu Królestwa. p. 62.
  2. ^ Kaufman, Kenn (2001). Lives of North American Birds. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 96. ISBN 0-395-77017-3.
  3. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Tweet of the Day, Eider". Bbc.co.uk. 9 July 2015. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  4. ^ Leach, William Elford (1819). Ross, John (ed.). A Voyage of Discovery made under the orders of the Admiralty in her Majesty's ships Isabella and Alexander, for the purpose of exploring Baffin's Bay, and enquiring into the probability of a North-West passage. London: John Murray. Appendix II, p. 48.
  5. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Cottrell, G. William, eds. (1979). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 487.
  6. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 359. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  7. ^ a b Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2021). "Screamers, ducks, geese & swans". IOC World Bird List Version 11.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 30 November 2021.