Alaska Science Center

Spectacled Eider, Somateria fischeri

High-Priority Species List

The vast majority of Spectacled Eiders breed in East Asia and return to the Alaskan Bering Sea each fall to molt and winter.
Spectacled Eiders breed in three geographically distinct areas: the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the Alaskan Arctic Coastal Plain, and the Siberian Arctic (Petersen et al. 2000). Birds from all three breeding populations winter in large mixed flocks in the Bering Sea (Petersen et al. 1999). Conditions observed for wintering flocks in some years are highly conducive for fecal/oral transmission of viruses with large concentrations of birds packed into small leads in the sea ice (Petersen et al. 1999). If the wintering population is not currently exposed, then there is a very low likelihood that Spectacled Eiders could bring the virus to Alaska breeding areas in 2006. However, if Asian breeding birds are exposed during summer 2006, the virus would likely spread among wintering birds and then would appear in Alaska breeding birds in 2007.

Spectacled Eiders breed at relatively low densities and nests can be difficult to detect. Thus, locating and capturing a large sample of breeding birds is difficult and labor intensive. However, eiders have a relatively consistent behavior of defecating on their eggs when flushed from their nests. Thus, fresh fecal samples can be obtained from a large proportion of the nests found without having to capture females.

No. of samples: A total of 300 nests will be fecal sampled by swabbing fecal material deposited on eggs when females flush. In addition, 50 females will be live captured on nests and sampled with cloacal swabs. In cases where females are trapped, paired fecal samples from eggs will be taken as a comparison of sampling approaches.
Sampling locations: Primary locations include Kigigak Island, Tutakoke River and random plot locations used in the nesting eider surveys.
Sampling timeframe: Late May through early July.
Sample demographics: After-second-year breeding females. Methods of capture: Females will be captured on nests using mist nest or bow-traps.
Other targeted species: Sympatric nesting species include, Common Eiders, Black Brant, Northern Pintails, and Emperor Geese.
Supplemental sampling: Hatch year Spectacled Eiders are being captured and banded at Kigigak Island to estimate recruitment. Juvenile waterfowl may be sensitive indicators of viruses present in populations as they have limited immunity. Cloacal swabs will be taken from these live-captured individuals. Small numbers of Spectacled Eider nests are found and monitored in conjunction with work in and around Prudhoe Bay. Opportunistic fecal samples can likely be obtained from these nests. Pooled fecal samples could be obtained from wintering concentrations if access to wintering areas were possible via ship.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Migratory Bird Management (sampling from YKD random plot surveys)
Contact: Julian Fischer

Yukon Delta NWR (sampling at Kigigak Island)
Contact: Fred Broerman

University of Nevada Reno: (sampling at Tutakoke River).
Contact: Jim Sedinger

Alaska Biological Research, Inc.: (sampling near Prudhoe Bay)
Contact: Robert Ritchie
Petersen, M. R. , J. B. Grand, and C. P. Dau. 2000. Spectacled Eider (Somateria fischeri). in A. Poole and F. Gill (eds.), The Birds of North America No. 547. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C

Petersen, M. R., W. W. Larned, and D. C. Douglas. 1999. At-sea distribution of spectacled eiders (Somateria fischeri): 120 year-old mystery resolved. Auk 116:1009-1020

Scribner, K. T., M. R. Petersen, R. L. Fields, S. L . Talbot, J. M. Pearce, and R. K. Chesser. 2001. Sex-biased gene flow in Spectacled Eiders (Anatidae): inferences from molecular markers with contrasting modes of inheritance. Evolution 55:2105-2115.

Distribution map of Spectacled Eider

Ranking Score: 12.0

Asian H5N1 ranking criteria for Spectacled Eider, Somateria fischeri.

Total of partial
contact with Asia1
Contact with
known "hot spot"2
Habitat used in
Pop. in Alaska4
Can samples be
Over 90% of the world population (approx 300,000) nests in Arctic Russia
No known use of AI-infected areas
Breeds moist tundra meadows and near wetlands
Approximately 9,000 birds breed on the Arctic slope, and 8,000 on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
Could be difficult to obtain target number
Image of Spectacled Eider, photo by J. Wasley