Stunning regal plumage sets the males of this species apart
What you need to know about the King Eider
Our Expert Says… "These stunning birds are warier than the common eider ducks who seem to relish the attention of you and your fellow explorers! Your guide should slow the Zodiac down if they spot King eider so that everyone gets the chance to see them before they take flight. The remarkable plumage makes them absolutely worth the extra effort to get a good sighting and a photo."
The king eider is a breeding sea duck of the high Arctic. Large in size, king eiders grow up to 70cm (28”) long and have wingspans of up to 1m (40”). Males can weigh over 1.6kg (3.5lb).
The male king eider is unmistakable thanks to his rather regal-looking plumage! The body is almost all black, but the breast is buff-colored and the head is a pale blue-gray color, with a green flash under the eye. The bill is pinkish-red with a large and distinctive yellow knob at the base. It’s this “crown-like” feature, together with the striking coloring, that gives this eider its royal name!
The female king eider is brown overall, with black wing markings and fine black lines to the head and neck.
King eider can be found throughout the arctic region, including the coasts of Alaska, Russia, Greenland, and Svalbard. Eiders move slightly south for the winter, spending the season out at sea in flocks of up to 100,000 in places like the Bering Sea and the waters off Northern Norway among others.
In summer, they move further north where they build nests near water. The females scrape out a shallow dip in the ground which they line with moss and grasses and their own down in common with all eider ducks. The males don’t get involved with rearing the chicks, but the females tend to collectively rear their young in larger creches.
When it's at sea, the king eider feeds almost exclusively on food like mollusks, crabs, sea urchins, and starfish that live in the sediments on the sea bottom, so it prefers shallower waters. During the breeding season, they tend not to dive but dabble at the surface for smaller invertebrates.
Although mature king eiders have relatively few predators, the chicks and young have a harder time of it, regularly being preyed on by species like glaucous gulls, Arctic foxes, and parasitic jaegers.