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< > Somateria spectabilis - King eider (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)
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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

Prachteiderente (German)
Eider à tête grise (French)
Eider royal (French)
Eider real (Spanish)
Eidero rey (Spanish)
Praktejder (Swedish)

Names for newly-hatched

Duckling, downy.

Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases


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Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

B1, B2, B6, B8, B19, B25, B26, B27.

Aviculture references:
B7, B8, B29, B30, B40, B94, B129
D1, D8

Other References

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

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Aviculture Information


General information:
  • Seaducks are generally winter-hardy and sociable. They are preferably kept on a large area of clean, cold, deep water, at least some of which (preferably half the area) should be more than 60cm and preferably more than1m deep. As with other diving ducks, most species are relatively ungainly on land and ponds should have shallow sloping banks. Some cover along the pond edges will generally be appreciated. Preferred nesting sites vary greatly within this group, from open ground nesting to thick vegetation and tree holes.
  • Diets of grain, pellets fish and seafood may be used, also bread. These ducks generally need a higher-protein diet than most waterfowl species and high-protein pelleted diets specifically designed for seaducks are now available, although supplementation with fish may still be important particularly for breeding.
  • Feeding in troughs containing stones may avoid the development of overgrown bills. Provision of salt water may decrease the incidence of fungal and other infections.
  • Ducklings may be given high-protein starter crumbs and live food, and provided with access to deep water for swimming from an early age.
  • Eiders should be provided with clean, deep, cold water, with ice-free water available in winter, and may be best kept as flocks rather than as individual pairs. They will eat large quantities of fish if it is offered. They are prone to Foreign Body Ingestion while searching for grit, and are also susceptible to heat stress and to Aspergillosis.

(B7, B29, B30, B40, B94, B129, D1)

Species-specific information:

  • King eiders have not been commonly kept and have only been bred sporadically. Open ground cover should be available for nesting, and islands are preferred nesting sites, with egg laying mainly May to June.

(J23.13.w8, B8, B29, B129)

Aviornis UK Ringing Scheme recommended average ring size: N 13.0mm (D8).

Management Techniques

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Length 19-25 inches, 43-63cm (B3, B1).
Adult weight General 1500-2010g (B1).
Male 1530-2010g, average 1830g (B3); mean 3.8 lbs., maximum 4.5 lbs. (B8).
Female 1500-1870g, average 1750g (B3); mean 3.6 lbs. (B8).
Newly-hatched weight --
Growth rate --

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Adult Bill Male Red with pale nail. Expanded at base into yellow frontal shield (B2, B6, B8, B25, B26).
Variations (If present) Female:- Dark olive-grey (B2, B3, B6, B8, B25).
Eyes (Iris) Male Brown (B2, B3, B6, B25).
Variations(If present) --
Juvenile Bill Dark olive-grey, later grey-pink in males (B2, B25, B26)
Eyes (Iris) Brown (B2, B6, B25).

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Adult Male Dull yellow-orange, with darker webs (B2, B3, B6, B25, B26).
Variations (If present) Female: Greyish-green, with darker webs (B2, B3, B6, B25, B26).
Juvenile Grey (female), dull olive (male) (B2)

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Adult Male Head and neck colourful: Black line around frontal shield, crown and nape pale grey-blue, separated by white line from green cheeks below the eye, white chin and throat. Lower neck, breast, mantle white, washed with pink on the breast. Upperparts black, with small 'sail' formed by elongated scapulars;underparts black, except large white patch either side of ventral region. Wing black, with median and greater coverts white, visible as white line along side; tertials curved and elongated. (B2, B3, B6, B8, B25, B26)
Variations (If present) Female:- Head, neck and body warm brown, with fine darker streaking head and neck, slight crest back of neck, dark chevron markings on body feathers; tail dark brown. Wing coverts brown with greater coverts finely white-tipped, primaries and secondaries blackish, secondaries finely white-tipped, tertials long and curved. (B2, B3, B6, B8, B25, B26).

Eclipse:- Head, neck and body dull dark brown/black, breast and mantle may have some white feathers, wing retains white coverts.

Juvenile Similar to female but duller and greyer, with tertials less curved. Males gradually develop grey on head, white on breast (B2, B3, B6, B25).

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

General: Upperparts dusky brown, underparts ashy-white, face buff-yellow, with dark line below eye (B2, B6).
Bill: pale slate-grey (B2, B6).
Feet: olive-grey (B2, B6).

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Reproductive Season

Time of year Begins mid-June (B1, B2, B3, B6).
No. of Clutches One (B2).

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Nest placement and structure

On the open ground or beside rocks or tussocks, a hollow lined with down, usually near fresh-water ponds (B1, B2, B3, B6, B25, B26, B27)

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average 4-5 (B1, B2)
Range 2-7 (B1); 4-5 (B8); 3-7 (B2).
Egg Description Pale olive (B2, B3, B8) size: 64x43mm (B3), 67x45mm (B2); weight: 73g (B3), 64g (B2).

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22-24 days (B1, B2, B3, B8).

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49-56 days (B8).

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Sexual Maturity

Males Three years old (B1, B2).
Females Three years old (B1, B2).

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Feeding Behaviour

Adults Mainly diving, also head-dip and up-end in shallows (B1, B2, B25).
Newly-hatched Initially feed in fresh water (B2).

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Parental Behaviour

Nest-building Solitary nests, shaped by female (B1, B2, B25, B26).
Incubation By female, with male in attendance initially but leaving once incubation underway (B2, B3, B25).
Newly-hatched Tended by female, brooded at night initially. Led to sea when still unfledged. Broods may amalgamate to form crèches with several females attending (B2, B3, B8).

Bond with female broken about fledging time (B2).

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Social Behaviour

Intra-specific Gregarious except when breeding, form large flocks during migration and when moulting (B2, B3, B8).
Inter-specific Mix with other species such as Somateria mollissima - Common eider in winter and Somateria fischeri - Spectacled eider . Hybridise with Somateria mollissima - Common eider occasionally on Iceland (B8, B25).

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Sexual Behaviour

Seasonal monogamous pairs, formed while at sea, prior to breeding season (B2, B3, B8).

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Predation in Wild

Gulls and jaegers (B8).

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Activity Patterns

Gregarious feeders (B2); loaf on shores and ice flows (B25, B26).
Circadian Daytime feeders (B2, B8), but also tidal-affected, feeding on falling tides (B8)

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Natural Diet


Molluscs, crustaceans, aquatic insect larvae (particularly in summer), echinoderms. Little plant material: algae, seeds and green parts grass and tundra vegetation (B1, B2, B3, B26, B27).

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Crustaceans, insect larvae, some plant material (B2.)

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Normal Arctic coasts: Spitzbergen, Novaya Zemla, northern peninsulas Russian and Siberian coasts, northern Greenland, arctic Canada and its islands, Alaska.

Moult migration particularly to Davis Strait (males and immatures).

Winters northern Pacific, especially around Aleutian Islands, also Atlantic coast of north America Greenland to Newfoundland, Iceland, northern Europe including Netherlands, northern Scandinavia, Kamchatka.

(B1, B2, B8, B19).

Occasional and Accidental

Occasionally as far south as California, Georgia, Florida (USA), with strays inland to the Great Lakes. In Europe reaches Scotland and east coasts of England and Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Faeroes, Jan Mayen Island, Bear Island, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Italy. (B2, B19).



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Out at sea except in breeding season, when favours freshwater pools, lakes, small rivers in arctic tundra. (B1, B3, B8, B19, B25, B26, B27).

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Intraspecific variation


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Conservation Status

Wild Population -

Not globally threatened, large populations (B1, B8).

CITES listing --
Red-data book listing --
Threats At risk from large oil spills, due to population concentrations (B1, B8).

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Captive Populations


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