This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Distribution and population
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: http://www.aerc.eu/DOCS/Bird_taxa_of _the_WP15.xls.
AOU. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
The King Eider breeds along the northern hemisphere Arctic coasts of Europe, North America and Asia. It can be found further south during the winter, including the north-east and north-west coast of North America, on Iceland
and islands north of the United Kingdom
, and on the Pacific coast of Asia to the tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia
) (del Hoyo et al.
. Population justification
The global population is estimated to number c.790,000-930,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2006), while the population in Russia has been estimated at c.10,000-100,000 breeding pairs and c.1,000-10,000 wintering individuals (Brazil 2009).Trend justification
The overall population trend is decreasing, although some populations may be stable, and others have unknown trends (Wetlands International 2006). This species has undergone a small or statistically insignificant increase over the last 40 years in North America (data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Butcher and Niven 2007) Note, however, that these surveys cover less than 50% of the species's range in North America.EcologyBehaviour
This species is fully migratory (del Hoyo et al.
. It breeds from late-June onwards (Madge and Burn 1988)
usually in well-dispersed (Kear 2005) solitary pairs (del Hoyo et al.
1992), although in some areas it may also form loose colonies (Madge and Burn 1988)
. Males gather in vast flocks (Johnsgard 1978)
between July and August (Snow and Perrins 1998)
and undertake moult migrations to favoured marine areas (Johnsgard 1978)
often more than a thousand miles from the breeding grounds (Johnsgard 1978)
. The autumn migration to winter quarters (by both males and females) peaks between August and October, stragglers still leaving the breeding grounds during September (Snow and Perrins 1998)
. The timing of the return passage in the spring is determined by the ice conditions and the thawing of inland breeding waters (Snow and Perrins 1998)
. Non-breeding birds generally oversummer south of the breeding range or may remain on the wintering grounds (Madge and Burn 1988)
. The species is highly gregarious when not breeding (Madge and Burn 1988)
, migrating in groups of up to c.1,000 individuals (Snow and Perrins 1998)
and aggregating into enormous flocks during the moulting period (e.g. 100,000 individuals off the western coast of Greenland (Madge and Burn 1988))
and during the winter (e.g. 15,000 individuals (Johnsgard 1978))
. Habitat Breeding
The species breeds on dry Artic tundra (del Hoyo et al.
1992, Kear 2005) near freshwater lakes, pools, bogs (del Hoyo et al.
1992), marshes (Kear 2005), streams (Madge and Burn 1988)
and small rivers (del Hoyo et al.
(1992) on the coast or up to 50 km (rarely up to 100 km) inland (Kear 2005). It shows a preference for shallow fresh waters with emergent vegetation for initial brood rearing, afterwards moving to more saline waters where the young fledge (Snow and Perrins 1998, Kear 2005)
The species generally moults in sheltered fjords and bays with high densities of benthic fauna (Kear 2005), and winters at sea on deep offshore waters (del Hoyo et al.
1992, Kear 2005) close to the edge of sea ice or in coastal areas with shallow waters (Kear 2005). Diet
Its diet consists predominantly of animal matter such as benthic molluscs, crustaceans, larval insects (del Hoyo et al.
1992) (e.g. caddisflies and midges (Johnsgard 1978))
, echinoderms (del Hoyo et al.
1992) (e.g. sea urchins and sand dollars (Johnsgard 1978))
and other marine invertebrates (del Hoyo et al.
1992), although the seeds and the vegetative parts of tundra plants (del Hoyo et al.
1992), sedges and aquatic plants (Kear 2005) may also be taken on the breeding grounds (del Hoyo et al.
1992), and algae, eelgrass Zostera
spp. and Ruppia maritima
may be taken at sea (Johnsgard 1978)
. Breeding site
The nest is a slight hollow on dry ground and is usually positioned near water (Flint et al.
in the open (Flint et al.
1984, del Hoyo et al.
or under the cover of driftwood (Flint et al.
, grass hummocks or rocks (Flint et al.
1984, del Hoyo et al.
The species is threatened by chronic coastal oil pollution (Nikolaeva et al.
and future oil spills (del Hoyo et al.
1992, Kear 2005, Nikolaeva et al.
, especially where it forms large aggregations on the sea during the moult period, on migration or in the winter (del Hoyo et al.
. The species is also threatened by the degradation of food resources as a result of oil exploration and by human disturbance when moulting and on migration, and is threatened by disturbance from uncontrolled shipping (e.g. oil transportation) on its wintering grounds (Nikolaeva et al.
. The population wintering in Greenland is under serious threats from over-exploitation (del Hoyo et al.
1992, Merkel 2004, Kear 2005)
(10-20 % of the winter population is killed annually (Kear 2005)) and through being caught and drowned as bycatch in gillnets during the spring migration (Merkel 2004)
Populations of this species in the high Arctic are subject to high shooting pressures, especially in spring, by indigenous peoples for food (Madge and Burn 1988, Byers and Dickson 2001)
. This subsistence hunting is likely to be sustainable at current levels (Byers and Dickson 2001)
Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.
Byers, T.; Dickson, D .L. 2001. Spring migration and subsistence hunting of king and common eiders at Holman, Northwest Territories, 1996-98. Arctic 54(2): 122-134.
del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Flint, V. E.; Boehme, R. L.; Kostin, Y. V.; Kuznetsov, A. A. 1984. A field guide to birds of the USSR. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
Heide-Jorgensen, M. P.; Laidre, K. 2004. Declining extent of open-water refugia for top predators in Baffin Bay and adjacent waters. Ambio 33: 487-494.
Johnsgard, P. A. 1978. Ducks, geese and swans of the World. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London.
Kear, J. 2005. Ducks, geese and swans volume 2: species accounts (Cairina to Mergus). Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.
Madge, S.; Burn, H. 1988. Wildfowl. Christopher Helm, London.
Merkel, F. R. 2004. Impact of hunting and gillnet fishery on wintering eiders in Nuuk, southwest Greenland. Waterbirds 27(4): 469-479.
Nikolaeva, N. G.; Spiridonov, V. A.; Krasnov, Y. V. 2006. Existing and proposed marine protected areas and their relevance for seabird conservation: a case study in the Barents Sea region. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 743-749. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.
Snow, D. W.; Perrins, C. M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic vol. 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)
Hear sounds for this species from xeno-canto, the community database of shared bird sounds from around the world.
View photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S., Malpas, L., Calvert, R.
IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Somateria spectabilis. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 07/12/2013.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2013) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 07/12/2013.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000)
Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004)
Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife
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