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King Eider

Somateria spectabilis [sO muh ter' E uh spek tab' ih lis]


This large, stocky duck weighs between 3 and 4 pounds, and is 19 to 25 inches long.

Outside of the breeding season both sexes are similar, but the male has blackish wings with white patches on the forewings. During the breeding season, the male is black and white with a brightly colored head, light blue crown and nape, greenish face, and bright red-orange bill with large orange knob outlined with black. The female is brown with black barring.

female King Eider
female King Eider

male King Eider in breeding plumage
male King Eider in breeding plumage

Distribution and Habitat

King eiders breed along the Arctic coasts of Canada, Alaska, and Russia, and in lesser numbers in northern Scandinavia. They winter in the Bering Sea and in the North Atlantic from Labrador to Newfoundland, occasionally as far south as Virginia; Old World populations winter in the northeast Pacific and in the White Sea.

distribution of the King Eider in North America

They are most commonly found in marine environments near coastlines or on open water shallow enough to allow for foraging at the bottom.


The nest is a scrape on the ground, usually near water, lined with vegetation and down from the female. Two to seven olive or olive-buff eggs are laid, and incubated by the female along for 22 to 24 days.


King eiders forage on sea beds up to 82 feet deep. They feed on aquatic insect larvae, crustaceans, and plant matter in the summer, and on a wide variety of marine animals in the winter.

Habits and Behaviors

Highly gregarious for most of the year, king eiders form huge flocks during spring migration, sometimes exceeding 10,000 birds.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Anseriformes
family Anatidae
subfamily Anatinae
genus & species Somateria spectabilis

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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Zoology >> Birds >> Order Anseriformes

This page was last updated on October 25, 2017.