King Eider (Somateria spectabilis)

According to an old legend, a king eider is simply a common eider whose age and experience have earned it the right to wear a “crown”.


The male king eider is a strikingly beautiful bird, with a mostly black back and wings, white breast and throat, light grey head and pale emerald green cheeks. Its bill is deep orange, with a large knoblike extension at the base. Female king eiders are uniformly chestnut brown with darker bars, and are distinguishable from other female eiders only by the shape of their bills, which have a comparatively short base. The plumage of immature males is a mixture of brown and white which changes as they develop. Eiders remain the same colour year-round, with no difference between their winter and breeding plumages. King eiders are smaller than common eiders, reaching a maximum of 60 cm in length.


King eiders are circumpolar. In Canada, they nest along the Arctic coast from southern Hudson Bay to Alaska and on most of the Arctic islands. In winter they move to the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans where they range as far south as the northern United States.


While king eiders are sea ducks, they have several habits that distinguish them from their close relatives. They do not nest in colonies or on ocean islands but instead, individual pairs move inland to breed. Although king eiders usually nest on the shores of lakes or rivers, nests are occasionally found on the tundra a considerable distance from water. Nests are on the ground, sometimes partially sheltered by rocks or vegetation, and lined with dark-coloured eider down. Once the 3-6 eggs are laid, males leave the females to incubate and care for the young, and move back to the ocean in large groups. Ducks in their first year do not breed, but instead stay on salt water until they are mature. In the winter, all king eiders move back to the ocean, where they may be found somewhat farther out from shore than common eiders.

Like many marine birds, they feed mainly on invertebrates, with 50% of their diet consisting of mollusks.