Connecticut Audbon Society


King Eider

November 20 2018

King Eider
Somateria spectabilis

by Andy Griswold, Director of EcoTravel
All birders, and now some non-birders after the arrival of the escaped Mandarin Duck in New York City, know that there are some seriously amazing plumages among duck species, our obvious local ones being Wood Duck and Harlequin Duck, the “fashion plates” of the northeast.

Not far behind them is a rare visitor to Connecticut, the King Eider; the males, like many birds, the more colorful. One was found in near-shore waters of Long Island Sound off Waterford just a few days ago.

King Eider is a robust sea duck, somewhere between the size of crow and a goose, but smaller than its relative, the Common Eider. The breeding plumage male’s distinctive head pattern features a light frosted blue crown and nape, white face with pale lime green wash, and large sunset orange knob above its red bill. Black lines define these facial features and a black and white theme continue onto the body of this stocky duck.

Females are brown with black barring and are best distinguished from Common Eider females by their silhouette; King being a more delicate bird with a smaller bill proportion. Sub-adult birds vary in plumage as do adults in basic vs. alternate plumages.

Food sources include mollusks, crustaceans, marine vegetation, and algae, some individuals diving to as deep as 85 feet to forage.

King Eider nest well to our north, above the Arctic Circle, and only are found in Connecticut waters in the winter months, likely brought here by an off-shore weather disturbance. Records occur in our state about every three to five years and are often females or sub-adult males.

The most recent record, a maturing sub-adult male, occurred on Sunday, November 18, at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, but was only a one-day event. All coastal areas, especially rocky areas, are places to look for this species.

King Eider is not currently listed as a species of concern regarding its conservation status, but little research has been done to quantify this in recent years. It is thought by some experts who review northern waterfowl surveys that there may have been some population decline in recent years, especially among the western wintering population. This drop may represent a population decline or a change in distribution due to human disturbance or changing weather patterns. The world population is estimated to be between 790,000 and 930,000 individuals. Wild birds will live to between 15 and 20 years.

King Eider in Connecticut never seem to be too far from Common Eider, so it may take a bit of practice to pick them out from the crowd, especially the females. This time of year is our duck season, so look for all of the scoters, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, and even a few other rarities like Barrows Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, and Eurasian Wigeon.

Happy Ducking and Happy Thanksgiving!






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