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King Eider
Male at Central Park Zoo, New York, USA
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Merginae
Genus: Somateria
Species: S. spectabilis
Binomial name
Somateria spectabilis
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) is a large sea duck. It breeds along Northern Hemisphere Arctic coasts of northeast Europe, North America and Asia. The birds spend most of the year in coastal marine ecosystems at high latitudes.

The King Eider winters in arctic and subarctic marine areas, most notably in the Bering Sea, the west coast of Greenland, eastern Canada and northern Norway. It also happens yearly off the northeastern United States, Scotland and Kamchatka.

They migrate to the Arctic tundra to breed in June and July. They lay four to seven eggs in a scrape on the ground lined with grass and down. Breeding areas include the Arctic coastal tundra of the north coast of Alaska.

King Eider From The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds
King Eider collage from The Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds

This species dives for benthic invertebrates, such as crustaceans, polychaete worms, and molluscs, with mussels being a favoured food. Wintering birds can form large flocks on suitable coastal waters, with some flocks bigger than 100,000 birds.

This species is smaller than the Common Eider. The male is unmistakable with its black body, white breast and multicoloured head. The drake's call is a deep cooing.

King Eiders
King Eiders (male and female) in natural habitat in Alaska wildlife refuge

The female is a brown bird. They can still be told apart from all ducks except other eider species on size and structure. The head is shorter than in the Common Eider, and the feathering onto the bill is rounded, not triangular in shape.

An immature drake is typically all dark with a white breast and a yellow bill patch.

The King Eider is a regular source of fresh meat in the spring. They begin their migration past the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in late April and are hunted in great numbers. In May, several hundred thousand King Eiders pass Point Barrow in northern Alaska on their way to Alaskan and Canadian breeding grounds.

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