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.
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
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 (
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.
This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 100,000-1,000,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 5,700,000-4,500,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2002). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern [conservation status from birdlife.org]
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.
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.
- spanwidth min.: 87 cm
- spanwidth 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.: 0 days
- broods 1
- eggs min.: 3
- eggs max.: 6
- Conservation Status