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King Eider
King Eider
( Somateria spectabilis)
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Circumpolar, breed in high arctic coasts including Alaska and Canada . Winter as far out as Eastern Russia and along southwestern Greenland .


Arctic fox, jaegers, glaucous gulls, humans


Molluscs, crustaceans, echinoderms and fish


Length: 24 inches
Wingspan: 35 inches
Weight: males ~3.6 to 4 lbs, females ~3.4 to 3.6 lbs

Life Span

12-14 years


During their winter period at sea, Kings are believed to find new mates and renew old pair bonds in preparation for the coming spring.  Migration begins in April and birds arrive at the breeding grounds by mid-June. The female scrapes a shallow depression in the ground and lays 4-5 eggs. Before long, the male returns to sea, leaving his mate to incubate the eggs and raise the brood on her own. The young hatch within about 23 days, during which the female doesn't eat, only leaving the nest for an occasional drink of water and losing a third of her body weight. Many mothers abandon their broods after hatching. Other adult females remain behind, gathering the young into larger groups. They are initially reared on fresh water feeding on insect larvae and plants, but are soon escorted to the seacoast by being led either downstream or overland from pond to pond. Ducklings can fly when about 50 days old.

Seasonal Change

Sexually dimorphic. In breeding plumage males have a large orange-yellow knob between their bill and forehead. Their forehead is pearl blue, green cheeks and a reddish bill. White breast and upper back, rest of body black. Females’ mainly dark reddish brown with olive gray bill.
King Eiders moult from the breeding plumage (alternate plumage) into the "eclipse" plumage (basic plumage) by late July. During the molt the birds become flightless for about three weeks.  As the males molt into eclipse plumage their frontal knob becomes shrunken and dull in color.

Morphology and Function

In breeding plumage males have a prominent large orange and yellow fleshy knob between their bill and forehead. The longest feathers along their back are black in color and have triangular extensions that form sail-like projections much like “spoilers”.

Other Facts

King eiders are long distance travelers that migrate in undulating flocks sometimes larger than 10,000 birds, their wings also whistle in flight. The entire western population of King Eiders from Alaska and Russia migrate past Point Barrow Alaska every April tru May on their way to the breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada .

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