King Eider
(Somateria spectabilis)


Picture of bird
© Ryan Clancy
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The King Eider has a circumpolar distribution. Among the sea ducks, this species is one of the most northerly nesting. There are two populations of King Eider (identified based on the species' wintering areas): the Western Arctic and the Eastern Arctic populations. Based on limited data, both populations appear to have declined since the 1970s. Subsistence Aboriginal harvest in Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Russia represents the majority of the take for this species. Information on population trends and harvest is limited. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Unrankable2015 
State of North America’s BirdsWatch list2016 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaModerate DecreaseLowAt an Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada500,000 - 1,000,000 birds

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts between early June and mid-June and ends in late July, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

Subsistence harvesting and losses associated with starvation are two major sources of mortality for King Eiders (Cotter and Lepage 2013). Mass starvation of adults during spring migration can occur due to lack of open water or because adverse weather conditions limit their access to food sources. The breeding success of the King Eider varies greatly. A delay in the spring ice melt, as well as bad weather conditions during migration or during the breeding season, can greatly impact this species’ productivity (Powell and Suydam 2012). The likely increase of industrial activity and marine shipping in Canada’s Arctic region could negatively affect eiders through disturbance and pollution from accidental spills or chronic discharges. King Eider is an important species in the subsistence harvest by Indigenous peoples in Canada, Alaska and Russia. In Canada, regulated harvest of King Eiders has always been very low. The remoteness of most of the species’ breeding and wintering areas, the existence of several distinct populations, and the fact that eiders do not use recognized North American flyways are all factors explaining the lack of consistent management and monitoring programs in Canada. Canada has a core responsibility for managing eiders, but better collaboration is needed between Canadian northern wildlife management boards, Russia, Greenland, France (Saint-Pierre and Miquelon) and the United Stated if the species’ population is to be managed sustainably.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Arctic Plains and MountainsArctic Plains and Mountains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Other
Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves , sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NL -- Other