Last updates


Legal issues

Fr: Eider à tête grise
All : Prachteiderente
Esp : Eider Real
Ital: Re degli Edredoni
Nd: Koningseider
Sd: Praktejder


John Anderson
John Anderson Photo Galleries

Ingo Waschkies
Bird Photography

Text by Nicole Bouglouan


HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105

GUIDE DES CANARDS, DES OIES ET DES CYGNES – de Steve Madge - Delachaux et Niestlé - ISBN: 2603013769


ENCYCLOPEDIE DES OISEAUX DE FRANCE ET D’EUROPE – de Peter Hayman et Rob Hume - Flammarion – ISBN : 2082009920

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

BirdLife International (BirdLife International)

Bird Web (Seattle Audubon Society)

All About Birds (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

What Bird-The ultimate Bird Guide (Mitchell Waite)


Home page

Page Anseriforme Order

Eiders... four really strange ducks

Summary Cards


King Eider
Somateria spectabilis

Anseriforme Order – Anatidae Family

Length: 43-63 cm
Weight: 1500-2000 g

The King Eider is a large, stocky duck. The male shows very beautiful head pattern, making it unmistakable.

The adult male in breeding plumage has black body and white mantle, breast and neck. The upperbreast is slightly washed yellowish or pale pinkish. The rump is black with white sides.
The upperwing is black with white greater and median wing-coverts. Tertials are curved. Inner scapulars are raised on back sides. The tail is black.
On the underparts, the underwing is white with greyish flight feathers.

On the head, crown and nape are pale bluish-grey. Cheeks are whitish to olive-green. There is a narrow white stripe above the eye, extending and bordering the rear part of the cheek. On the forehead, the frontal shield is orange-yellow with black centre and borders.
The bill is red with pale pinkish-horn tip. The eyes are dark brown. Legs and webbed feet are pale yellowish-brown.

The male in eclipse plumage is dull blackish-brown overall, including the head. It is usually darker than female. There is some white on mantle.

The female has brown washed reddish plumage with dark streaks on crown and nape. The area around the bill base is whitish. The upperparts and flanks are streaked dark brown to blackish. There is a narrow white wingbar, formed by the whitish tips of greater coverts and secondaries. Flight feathers are greyish. On the head, the face is olive-grey. The bill is bluish-grey. Legs and webbed feet are greyish.

The juvenile is duller and greyer than female, especially on head and neck. The bill is blackish. The adult plumage is gained by the third winter.

2d winter

The King Eider gives low croaking notes in flight. During courtship displays, it utters loud “ah ou ou” and soft, dovelike cooing “urrr-urrr-URR” while the female gives raucous “krrr”.  

The King Eider is a marine duck. It spends most of the year at sea, usually in deep waters and away from coasts. But during the breeding season, it comes to adjacent lands and breeds in Arctic tundra on freshwater lakes, pools, small rivers and bogs.

The King Eider is found along the Arctic coasts, except Iceland and Scandinavia where it may breed sometimes.

The King Eider feeds by upending in shallow water, but it also uses head-dipping and diving. It is able to forage up to 25 metres deep. This species feeds on molluscs and crustaceans, insect larvae, echinoderms and numerous aquatic invertebrates.   
When on land during the breeding season, it may take some plant material such as seeds, green parts of grasses and tundra vegetation.

During the breeding season, this fairly gregarious duck breeds as isolated pairs which form in spring, often during the migration.
The male performs series of ritualized displays accompanied by calls. It displays in front of the female. The “pushing-display” shows the male pushing the head up while the bill is pointed downwards. Then, it retracts the bill smoothly down again.

These displays enhance the coloured head pattern. During these movements, the male puffs up the breast and coos.
The curved black tertials and the raised scapulars are conspicuous during displays. It also performs wing flapping and upwards stretch.
The female sometimes does not accept these displays, and chases strongly the male away.   

The King Eider is migratory. They spend the winter fairly far north in N America and in N Europe. Some small populations may occur further south, in unusual places such as Italy, Hungary, California and Georgia (USA).
They may gather in huge numbers at some wintering grounds.

The King Eider performs faster and more agile flight than the Common Eider, and it takes off more rapidly from water.
When they fly in groups, they form a line, usually fairly low from the water.

The breeding season starts in June.
The King Eider breeds in single pairs scattered through the tundra, often near water such as pool or river, but in dry place.
The nest is a shallow scrape in the ground, lined with down. It is often situated in open area or in sheltered site, close to rock or mound.

The female lays 4-5 pale olive to buff eggs, and incubates alone during 22-24 days. At this period, males leave females and gather along the nearby coasts for moulting.
Chicks are covered in brown down above, and whitish below. They are precocial and leave the nest very soon after hatching, within 24 hours. They are sexually mature at three years old.

2d winter

The King Eider feeds on molluscs and crustaceans, marine invertebrates, insect larvae and echinoderms. It also consumes aquatic plants matter and algae.
It feeds by diving deep under water, and upending or head-dipping.

The King Eider is common to locally abundant. Hunting pressure can be high during migrations, and it is vulnerable to oil pollution outside the breeding season, when remaining at sea. However, this species is not currently threatened.