Eyes on Eiders Header

The Steller's eiders kept the team busy during the 2014 breeding season. The combination of nesting materials, nest placement, privacy, mate choice and staffing worked for the eiders! For the first time in the program’s history, two Steller’s eider hens, Scarlet and Eek, incubated their eggs for the full 26 days and hatched ducklings. Scarlet had three ducklings and Eek had one. Four other ducklings hatched after artificial incubation and were raised by people for a total of eight Steller’s ducklings.

The hens fully incubating their eggs was a grand achievement for the eider team! In the early stages of the project, hens would only lay infertile eggs, or not build a nest, or not stay on their nest through the whole incubation. In captivity, Steller’s eider hens had never incubated their eggs completely on their own before now!

In addition to the eight ducklings of 2014, the eider team had many eggs that were infertile or that were fertile but never hatched. All the eggs that do not hatch go to the lab where Dr. Katrina Counihan and her lab technicians get to work. Every egg provides further data for researchers to use to learn more about eiders.


Discover what Dr. Katrina is learning in her eider lab. (1:40)

Video Transcript

Dr. Katrina Counihan uses parts of the eggs she dissects to study eider health. We know a lot about how people deal with being sick, but not much about what eiders do to stay healthy. One part of the egg she is interested in is the yolk because it contains immunoglobulin (or antibodies) which would help the duck fight off diseases. Dr. Counihan looks at the immunoglobulin in the eggs to understand how the eiders are able to fight diseases. Thanks to Dr. Counihan’s work, if the eiders are reintroduced, the scientists will understand how healthy the captive birds are and how the eiders will be able to handle any diseases that they might encounter in the wild.

Dr. Hollmen believes that the collaboration and communication between the research and husbandry staff is the key to the team’s success. The husbandry staff works to make the eiders feel at home and healthy so they lay eggs. Some of those eggs hatch into ducklings that increase the captive reservoir population. Researchers in the lab use the other eggs to find information on the health of the birds. The field team tries to find a wild habitat where the eiders could survive. Each team member contributes a specialized set of skills and everyone is united by the goal of learning about and helping a unique arctic species.





  ALBUMEN (n) - the white of an egg.
  CALIPER (n) - a tool with two moveable arms that is used to measure thickness, diameter, length or width.
  COLLABORATION (n) - the action of working with someone to do or create something.
  IMMUNOGLOBULIN (n) - also called antibody; a protein that helps the immune system find and get rid of foreign objects like bacteria and viruses.
  PETRI DISH (n) - a shallow plastic or glass dish often used in labs to culture bacteria or collect samples.
  YOLK (n) - the yellow center of an egg that supplies food to a growing bird before it hatches.