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Steller's Eider Polysticta stelleri
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This species is listed as Vulnerable because it is undergoing a rapid population reduction, particularly in the key Alaskan populations. Further studies are needed to determine the causes of these declines, and whether some populations may have shifted to unsurveyed areas within the range.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
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.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

43-47 cm. Smallish marine duck with squarish head and angular bill; breeding plumage male unmistakable (in eclipse blackish with white secondary coverts); 1st winter male brown with faint suggestion of male head markings - blackish throat and collar; female red-brown with blue tertials (except 1st winter when brown) and whitish inner webs. Most female-type plumages show pale eye ring. Flight fast with rapid beats; male shows white forewing and trailing edge, female has thin white wing bar and trailing edge. Similar spp. Best told from other Eiders in non adult male plumage by shape and size supported by various plumage features described above. Hints Occurs in tight flocks which dive simultaneously, search amongst other eider species away from main range.

Distribution and population
Polysticta stelleri breeds between the Kolyma Delta and the Yamal Peninsula, Russia, and on the Arctic plain of Alaska, USA (C. Dau in litt. 1999, Frederickson 2001). A remnant population breeds in western Alaska. Non-breeding populations summer in Novaya Zemlya, Russia, northern Norway and adjacent Russian waters, and south-west Alaska (C. Dau in litt. 1999). Birds breeding east of the Khatanga Gulf, Russia, winter in the Bering Sea. Small numbers winter in northern Japan. Birds breeding west of the Khatanga Gulf winter in the north-east Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea. The total current population estimate is 110,000-125,000 individuals. Wintering populations in Europe were estimated at 7,700-20,800 individuals in 2000 (BirdLife International 2004), but this did not include all Russian populations: the total for Europe and Russia is estimated at 23,060-36,160 individuals. In Europe, marked declines have been noted in recent years, with numbers falling by an estimated 13% per annum in the Baltic between 1994 until 2003 and by 8% per annum in Norway between 1985 and 2003 (I. Burfield in litt. 2005; Žydelis et al. 2006). Estimates of birds wintering in Alaska declined from 137,904 in 1992 to 74,369 individuals in 2011 (Larned 2012), which was 9% below the 1992-2010 mean.  The decline rate is equivalent to 2.3% per year; however, a higher frequency of optimally-timed counts in early years of the survey likely resulted in a slight negative trend bias of unknown magnitude (Larned 2012). The poorly known population wintering in east Asia may have declined by 20-40% to c.20,000-25,000 birds (R. A. Stehn in litt. to Anseriformes Draft Action Plan), including 10,000-15,000 birds recently estimated to winter in the Russian Far East (D. Solovieva in litt. 2005). The number of eiders wintering on Bering Island, in the Commander Islands near Kamchatka, Russia, declined from estimates of 10,000 in the 1960s (Marakov 1965) to between 3,356-4,994 in 2005, 2006 and 2007 (Y. Artukhin, per K. Laing in litt. 2007, Belobrov and Artukhin 2008). It is possible that some of these declines reflect population redistribution to unknown areas. It has been speculated that declines in the Baltic could result from the population shifting to waters around the Kola Peninsula, Russia (Žydelis et al. 2006), although a survey of parts of this area in 2003 did not reveal sufficiently large numbers to confirm this (Krasnov et al. 2004).

Population justification
Various population estimates include: c.10,000-15,000 wintering individuals in north Norway and the south-east Baltic (based on a count of 4,297 off Kola Peninsula in April 2003 [Krasnov et al. 2004], 2,250 in the south Baltic in 2003 [Zydelis et al. 2006] and c.2,000-4,000 individuals wintering off Norway [unpublished information supplied by Wetlands International Specialist Groups to Wetlands International 2006]); c.100,000-110,000 wintering individuals in the north Pacific (counts in north America declined from 137,904 in 1992 to 77,329 in 2003, to 74,369 in 2011, forming basis of 2003 north American population estimate of 90,000-95,000 individuals [K. Laing in litt. 2005 to Wetlands International 2006]; however, the population has since declined to 74,369 individuals in 2011 [Larned 2012]); c.20,000 migrating individuals through the Kamchatka Peninsula in spring (Gerasimov and Gerasimov 2003) and c.100-10,000 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 wintering individuals in Russia (Brazil 2009).

Trend justification
Based on population estimates of birds staging in southwest Alaska, the Alaskan population declined by by 2.3% per year since 1992 (or 46% over 20 years), during 1992-2011 (Larned 2012). Declines in Europe have been even steeper, with numbers wintering in the Baltic declining by an estimated 13% per year between 1994 and 2003 and by 8% per year in Norway between 1985 and 2003 (Žydelis et al. in prep.). It is unclear, however, whether these declines were genuine, or reflect a redistribution to other wintering areas. Conservatively assuming the Asian population was stable over this time, and taking into account the smaller relative size of the European population, a precautionary decline rate of 30-49 % over 12 years is assumed.

Behaviour This species is migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It begins to breed in June, nesting sometimes in single pairs in very low densities (roughly one pair per 100 acres was recorded on the Kashunuk River in the 1960s) (Johnsgard 1978), but occasionally in small colonies of up to 60+ nests (Kear 2005). Around the time of hatching, males gather in large flocks off the coast near the breeding ground (Johnsgard 1978). Shortly after hatching the female moves her brood to the coast where they form 'herds' (Johnsgard 1978). The species migrates up to 3000km to its moulting sites (Johnsgard 1978, Kear 2005), where it becomes flightless for a period, before some continue migration to more distant wintering sites (Petersen et al. 2006). The timing of the moult migration appears to be highly variable, occurring sometimes as early as August, but in some years not until November, in which case the moult occurs prior to arrival (Johnsgard 1978). On the moulting grounds it forms flocks that may exceed 50,000 birds (Kear 2005, Laubhan and Metzner 1999). Congregations of a similar size also occur also in the spring when pair formation occurs prior to departure for the breeding grounds (Kear 2005). Spring migration commences in March in east Asia (Kear 2005), and elsewhere it begins in April, usually peaking in May (Kear 2005). Arrivals on the breeding grounds begin in early June (Kear 2005). Some small flocks remain throughout the summer in the wintering quarters at Varangerfjiord (Kear 2005). Habitat Breeding This species regularly breeds several kilometres inland (Kear 2005). It inhabits pools of various shapes and sizes in areas that characterise flat coastal belt within open tundra (Kear 2005). In the Lena Delta and Barrow areas it favours moss-lichen polygonal tundra (Kear 2005). It forages in areas of fresh, saline or brackish water, and tidal flats (Johnsgard 1978). Following hatching all birds move to coastal habitats (Johnsgard 1978). Non-breeding It winters mostly at sea, along low-lying rocky coasts, frequenting bays and river mouths (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It forages in water that is less than 10m deep (Madge and Burn 1988), and particularly favours areas where freshwater streams enter the sea (Madge and Burn 1988). Diet It feeds chiefly on molluscs, crustaceans and other marine invertebrates (del Hoyo et al. 1992). During the breeding season, some freshwater prey is taken including chironomid and caddisfly larvae (Johnsgard 1978). During moult, bivalve molluscs are the primary food source (Petersen 1981). Breeding site Nests are built on small hummocks or in depressions between hummocks, usually within a few metres of a tundra pond, and are often well-concealed by grass (Johnsgard 1978). The nests are deep and lined with lichens, grass and down (Kear 2005).

Subsistence hunting has been ongoing in Alaska since the late 19th century, and may have affected breeding populations here. Over-hunting in Siberia and in other breeding areas may be impacting the population. Studies at Barrow indicate that the species is subject to lead poisoning from the historical (and probably ongoing, but illegal since a nationwide ban in 1991 [Morse 2009]) use of lead shot. Disease and water pollution may impact eiders in their wintering area in south-west Alaska. Eiders breeding in Russia are subject to human subsistence harvest and exposure to lead shot. Males are subject to particular hunting pressure as they arrive on moulting grounds before females (Morse 2009). Declines of wintering birds on Bering Island, Russia appear to be greater on the west coast near the only village on the island; new protective zones are being proposed there (Y. Artukhin per K. Laing in litt. 2007). Nest predation by mammalian and avian predators (e.g. Arctic Fox Alopex lagopus, Snowy Owl Nyctea scandiaca and Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus) appears to be a threat on Alaskan breeding grounds; no nesting was observed on breeding grounds near Barrow between 2001 and 2004, but nesting has since occurred with some success following the inception of fox control in 2005 (Safine 2011). Increasing human habitation of Arctic regions has increased the range and numbers of Ravens and some large gulls, leading to a greater risk of predation (Kear 2005). Recent dramatic changes in Arctic sea ice extent and thickness north of Alaska and Russia may affect eiders in unknown ways. Habitat loss also occurs through prospecting for, and the exploitation of, natural resources such as oil and gas (Kear 2005). The increasing traffic of tankers carrying oil from Arctic areas imposes the risk of contamination following spills (Kear 2005). It is not currently clear which of these many factors is driving the overall decline (K. Laing in litt. 2004, Žydelis et al. 2006). There are concerns in Alaska that a road-building project approved by the United States Congress in 2009 may impact the species (Morse 2009).

Conservation Actions Underway
A European action plan was published in 2000, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service successfully proposed the critical habitat designation of 4,528 km2 of coastal habitat for the conservation of this species (Anon. 2001). It is a protected species in both Russia and the USA. Work has begun in Russia to conduct waterfowl population and subsistence harvest surveys (K. Laing in litt. 2004). A captive breeding and research programme (including 50 years of banding data) is underway in Alaska (Alaska SeaLife Center 2004). New protective zones are being proposed around wintering sites on Bearing Island (Y. Artukhin per K. Laing in litt. 2007), including additional protected zones of the Komandorskiy Reserve (Belobrov and Artukhin 2008). CMS Appendix I and II. Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey breeding and wintering grounds (particularly surrounding the Kola Peninsula, Russia) to determine population size and trends. Determine causes of current declines. Work to mitigate threats such as lead poisoning. Ensure subsistence harvest is sustainable.  Support and extend the captive breeding programme to support future reintroductions and supplementation.

Alaska SeaLife Center. 2004. Experts embark on challenging multi-year program to breed Steller's eiders in captivity for first time in Alaska.

Anon. 2001. Critical habitat designated for Spectacled and Steller's Eiders in Alaska. WWF Arctic Bulletin: 20-21.

Belobrov, R. V.; Artukhin, Y. B. 2008. Alarming information about wintering waterfowl on the Commander Islands. Casarca 11(2): 139-146.

BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

Collar, N. J.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook.

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.

Frederickson, L..H. 2001. Steller's Eider (Polysticta stelleri). In: A. Poole and F. Gill (eds), The Birds of North America, pp. 24. The Birds of North America, Inc, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Gerasimov, Y. N.; Gerasimov, N. N. 2003. Estimation of Anatidae numbers on Kamchatka based on spring counts. In: Dorzhiev, T.Z. (ed.), The modern problems of Siberia and Central Asia: Proceedings of the II International Ornithological Conference, Ulan-Ude, Russia, 16-19 May 2003, pp. 36-37. Buryat State University Press, Ulan-Ude, Russia.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

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.

Krasnov, Y.V.; Ström, H.; Gavrilo, M.V.; Shavykin, A. A. 2004. Seabirds wintering in polynyas along Terskiy coast of the White Sea and along East Murman coast. Ornitologia Neotropical 31: 51-57.

Larned, W. W. 2003. Steller's Eider spring migration surveys southwest Alaska.

Larned, W. W. 2005. Steller's eider spring migration surveys, southwest Alaska, 2005.

Larned, W. W. 2012. Steller's eider spring migration surveys, Southwest Alaska, 2011. United States Fish and Wildlife Service Report, Anchorage, Alaska.

Larned, W.W. 2004. Steller's Eider spring migration surveys, Southwest Alaska 2004.

Laubhan, M.K. and Metzner, K.A. 1999. Distribution and diurnal behavior of Steller's eiders wintering on the Alaska Peninsula. Condor 101(3): 694-698.

Madge, S. and Burn, H. 1988. Wildfowl. Christopher Helm, London.

Morse, S. 2009. A challenging future for the Steller's Eider. Endangered Species Bulletin 34(3): 22-23.

Petersen, M. 1981. Populations, feeding ecology and molt of Steller's eiders. Condor 83: 256-262.

Petersen, M. R. 1981. Populations, feeding ecology and molt of Steller's Eider. Condor 83: 256-262.

Petersen, S. L.; Ryan, P. G.; Gremillet, D. 2006. Is food availability limiting African Penguins Spheniscus demersus at Boulders? A comparison of foraging effort at mainland and island colonies. Ibis 148: 14-26.

Safine, D. E. 2011. Breeding ecology of Steller's and spectacled eiders nesting near Barrow, Alaska, 2008-2010. United States Fish and Wildlife Service Technical Report, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Scott, D. A.; Rose, P. M. 1996. Atlas of Anatidae populations in Africa and western Eurasia. Wetlands International, Wageningen, Netherlands.

Zydelis, R.; Lorentsen, S-H.; Fox, A.D.; Kuresoo, A.; Krasnov, Y.; Goryaev, Y.; Bustnes, J.O.; Hario, M.; Nilsson, L.; Stipniece, A. 2006. Recent changes in the status of Steller's Eider Polysticta stelleri wintering in Europe: a decline or redistribution? Bird Conservation International 16(3): 217-236.

Further web sources of information
Audubon WatchList

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

European Species Action Plan

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Recovery Plan

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Gilroy, J., Harding, M., Temple, H. & Anderson, O.

Artukhin, Y., Burfield, I., Dau, C., Laing, K., Pihl, S., Solovyeva, D., Stehn, H., Stehn, R. & Martin, K.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Polysticta stelleri. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016.

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

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Steller’s eider (Polysticta stelleri) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, Swans)
Species name author (Pallas, 1769)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 968,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment