Alaska Science Center

King Eider, Somateria spectabilis

High-Priority Species List

A major segment of the Pacific population breeds not only in coastal Alaska, but also across arctic Russia from the Chukotka Peninsula west to the Taimyr Peninsula. Nesting habitat is nearly identical to that of Steller’s and Spectacled Eiders (species that scored high on the ranking matrix for birds to be sampled for Asian H5N1). Similar to other eiders, the distribution of King Eiders does not overlap with known outbreak areas of Asian H5N1, but breeds in sympatry with shorebird and landbird species that migrate and or winter in known outbreak areas.
The King Eider nests in high-latitude coastal tundra throughout Russia, Alaska, and Canada. During the non-breeding season, birds rarely come on shore and forage in coastal marine waters throughout the Pacific Ocean generally no farther south than the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia, Aleutian Islands, and Prince William Sound of Alaska (Suydam 2000). The Pacific population was estimated to be approximately 350,000 based on migration counts at Point Barrow (Suydam 2000). The King Eider is one of the first waterfowl species to appear in the Arctic each spring, often migrating in flocks of > 10,000 individuals (Suydam 2000). Movements between breeding and wintering ranges have been determined through extensive use of satellite telemetry (Dickson et al. 1997, Powell et al., unpubl. data available at: Genetic analyses suggest gene flow among breeding populations (Pearce et al. 2004), which has been confirmed with satellite telemetry (Powell et al., unpubl. data) and stable isotope analysis (Mehl et al. 2004). In Alaska and Russia, the species is mostly found on coastal salt meadows, on barrier islands of river deltas, and on islands within freshwater tundra lakes. The core spring staging area in Alaska appears to be ice-free waters between Cape Lisburne and Point Barrow of northeast Alaska.
No. of samples: Total 250 (100 spring and 100 fall migrants sampled at Point Barrow and 50 sampled in the Beaufort Sea Lagoon area).
Sampling locations: Primary locations include Point Barrow and the Beaufort Sea Lagoon area near Prudhoe Bay.
Sampling timeframe: May/June and July/August.
Sampling demographics: Adults will be sampled during spring and fall migration. It is likely that an equal ratio of males and females will be obtained during migration sampling.
Methods of capture: Samples of spring and fall migrants will come from hunter harvested (subsistence) birds near Point Barrow and from fecal samples collected from birds flushed from roosting areas in the Beaufort Sea Lagoon area.
Other targeted species: At Point Barrow it will also be possible to sample long-tailed ducks and common eiders. Glaucous gulls, long-tailed ducks, and common eiders will also be sampled for feces in the Beaufort Sea Lagoon area.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Contact: Rick Lanctot

U.S. Geological Survey
Alaska Science Center
Contact: John Pearce

North Slope Borough
Contact: Robert Suydam

LGL Limited, Environmental Research Associates
Contact: Robert Rodrigues
Dickson, D., R. Cotter, J. Hines, and M. Kay. 1997. Distribution and abundance of King Eiders in the western Canadian Arctic, p. 29-39. In D. Dickson (ed.), King and Common Eiders of the western Canadian Arctic. Canadian Wildlife Service Occasional Paper No. 94, Ottawa, ON, Canada.

Mehl, K., R. Alisauskas, K. Hobson, and D. Kellett. 2004. To winter east or west? Heterogeneity in winter philopatry in a central-arctic population of King Eiders. Condor 106:241-251.

Pearce, J., S. Talbot, B. Pierson, M. Petersen, K. Scribner, D. Dickson, and A. Mosbech. 2004. Lack of spatial genetic structure among nesting and wintering King Eiders. Condor 106:229-240.

Suydam, R. 2000. King Eider (Somateria spectabilis). In A. Poole and F. Gill (eds.), The birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Distribution map of King Eider

Ranking Score: 10.0 (lowest score of the waterfowl species ranked. However, the King Eider occurs in sympatry with Steller's, Common, and Spectacled eiders during spring migration, breeding, fall migration and during times of flightless molt)

Asian H5N1 ranking criteria for King Eider, Somateria spectabilis.

Total of partial
contact with Asia1
Contact with
known "hot spot"2
Habitat used in
Pop. in Alaska4
Can samples be
Approx. 150,000 breed in northeastern Russia
No known use of AI-infected areas
Breeds in moist and uplands tundra
Approximately, 360,000 breed in northern Alaska and western Canada
Could be difficult to obtain target numbers in most locations
Image of King Eider, photo by D. Dewhurst