The spectacled eider (Somateria fischeri) is a large sea duck that is primarily found in the northern coastal regions of the high Arctic.
This species stands out from other ducks due to its unique appearance, which includes its relatively large size, bright orange bill, and white head with a distinct black stripe that runs along the edges of its eyes.
It is a member of the genus Somateria which includes the other eider species — the King eider and the common wider.
The adult male spectacled eider is a large bird with a distinctive, ghostly appearance. It has a sloping bright orange bill, a white back, and black underparts. It has a pale green head, but the back of its head is greenish-black.
The most striking feature of the spectacled eider is its face pattern, which consists of a pair of white spectacles outlined in black, which gives the bird its common name.
The adult female spectacled eider has tawny plumage barred with dark brown, creating a mottled effect. The feathers are paler brown with black streaks on her head and neck, giving her a slightly lighter appearance.
Despite being female, she still displays a hint of the striking spectacle pattern that is more prominent in males of the species.
The female spectacled eider has a long, sloping bill slightly upturned at the tip and a gently curved forehead that slopes down towards the bill.
Listen to the Spectacled Eider
Habitat & Range
The spectacled eider is a species of sea duck that is native to the tundra regions of Siberia in Russia, Teshekpuk Lake, Nushagak Peninsula and Yukon Kuskokwim Delta in Alaska and coastal areas near the Canadian border.
During the breeding season, the spectacled eider can be found in boggy tundra and around pack ice at sea. These habitats are often remote and difficult for humans to access, making it challenging to study these birds.
However, they also breed in salt marshes, freshwater ponds with small islands, wet meadows, low ridges, and mounds covered with ice.
The wintering grounds of the spectacled eider have yet to be fully understood, but dense flocks have been observed migrating to the Bering Sea ice openings in the winter. These ducks often fly low over the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in flocks during migration.
It molts for about two months near the shallow waters of Siberia and Alaska.
Feeding Habits & Diet
The spectacled eider is not a particularly picky eater, but it prefers to feed on mollusks, including free-floating amphipods, clams and gastropods, which it feeds on during the breeding season and when it is at sea.
However, during the summer months on the tundra, the spectacled eider’s diet becomes more diverse, including aquatic insects, crustaceans, and various plant materials such as sedges, grasses, and berries.
The spectacled eider uses different tactics when foraging for food, depending on its location. For instance, it dabbles in shallow water or walks on land to find food when it is in the tundra. At sea, the spectacled eider dives and swims underwater to search for its preferred mollusks. In fact, it can remain submerged longer than other diving ducks.
Life History, Nesting & Mating Habits
The spectacled eider breeds in the Arctic tundra from mid-May to mid-July. Pairs form before the spring migration at the wintering grounds.
During this time, female spectacled eiders prefer to nest near ponds, lakes and rivers for easy access to water and food. Their nests are usually well concealed on a raised ridge under shrubs or other vegetation and consist of a shallow depression lined with plant material such as grasses, lichens, mosses, feathers and down.
The female typically lays three to five creamy white eggs, which she incubates incubate for an average of 24 days until hatching. The male leaves the female shortly before the incubation period begins to molt with other eiders offshore.
24 to 48 hours from hatching, the chicks can find all their own food. The distinct spectacles are already visible. Young birds fledge two months later and leave the nesting grounds in the late summer.
Population, Threats & Conservation
This bird has been listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1993.
The spectacled eider is facing significant threats to its survival, including habitat loss and degradation caused by human activities such as pollution, oil spill, oil and gas drilling and over-exploitation of resources in the areas where the eiders nest.
The spectacled eider populations have decreased steadily since the 1970s due to these intensifying threats. The melting of the Arctic ice caps due to climate change has degraded the spectacled eider’s natural breeding grounds.
Conservationists request the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grant permanent protection to coastal plains and the critical habitat of these vulnerable birds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The spectacled eiders are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1991. It is illegal to hunt this duck regardless of season or purpose.
- Like most diving ducks, spectacled eiders dive underwater to forage food.
- Females have pale brown eye patches, while males have distinct goggles around the eyes.
- These birds occur in the high Artic regions of Alaska, Canada and Russia.