King Eider (Somateria spectabilis)

King Eider

[order] ANSERIFORMES | [family] Anatidae | [latin] Somateria spectabilis | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] King Eider | [FR] Eider a tete grise | [DE] Pracht-Eiderente | [ES] Eider Real | [NL] Koningseider


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Somateria spectabilis NA, EU n


Eiders are large seaducks in the genus Somateria. Steller’s Eider, despite its name, is in a different genus. The three extant species all breed in the cooler latitudes of the Northern hemisphere. 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, USA. The former may not actually belong into this genus.

Physical charateristics

Male king eiders have a black lower back, rump, scapulars, tail coverts, breast, belly, and sides. The tail is brown-black and the bill is orange, sweeping upward into an orange frontal shield outlined in black with a pale blue crest. The neck, chest, and foreback are cream-white. They have a white patch at the base of the tail and in the forepart of the upper wings. The legs and feet are dull yellow to orange. Female king eiders are tawny-brown, barred with dusky brown chevrons (`V’ marks) that can be similar in color to common eiders. The bill and facial skin are a dark olive-gray and the legs and feet are grayish.

Listen to the sound of King Eider

[audio: Eider.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 87 cm wingspan max.: 100 cm
size min.: 55 cm size max.: 63 cm
incubation min.: 22 days incubation max.: 24 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 24 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 6  


North America, Eurasia : North


King eiders generally nest in vegetation, often adjacent to small lakes and ponds or on small islets on the coast. They winter as far north as the seas remain ice-free


The king eider has a circumpolar distribution. In North America it breeds along the Arctic coast from Alaska to Greenland and along most of the northern Hudson Bay shoreline. King eiders generally nest in vegetation, often adjacent to small lakes and ponds or on small islets on the coast and lay an average of 4 to 5 eggs.

Feeding habits

King eiders dive great depths to feed on mollusks, crustaceans, and aquatic insects. They also feed on eelgrass, widgeon grass, and algae. There is a record of one king eider feeding on the bottom in 30 fathoms (180 feet) of water in the Bering Sea.

Video King Eider


copyright: youtube


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Somateria spectabilis breeds in Russia, Svalbard and Greenland, which together
account for a tiny proportion of its global breeding range. Its European breeding
population is relatively small (<46,000 pairs), but was stable between 1970-1990. Although the trend of the Greenland population during 1990-2000 was unknown, the species was stable in Russia and Svalbard, and probably remained stable overall.
King Eider status Least Concern


Migratory, perhaps only partially in some cases. Breeders of north Russia (eastern limit unknown) and, presumably, some from Spitsbergen and Novaya Zemlya, have winter area extending from White Sea west to Arctic Norway. From this region, small numbers move down Norwegian coast and sporadically into North Sea, while Baltic records suggest rare but regular overland movement between White Sea and Gulf of Finland. Though sea-ice closes most of Polar Basin, a few generally manage to winter Barents Sea and Kara Sea. Others reach Iceland, probably from east Greenland.
Moult migration sometimes spectacular; in west Palearctic especially south-west Novaya Zemlya, and Ostrov Belyi in Kara Sea, while large numbers of immatures present all summer off Kolguev evidently moult there alongside the many moulting adults. Autumn migration proper late August to October; last birds leave nesting grounds September. Spring passage largely determined by ice condition; vanguard may wait offshore for weeks before inland waters thaw, and northernmost breeders may not be established before end of June.

Distribution map

King Eider distribution range map

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