King Eider

King eider


These sea ducks are highly social, and can often be seen on the water in big “rafts,” or flocks, particularly during the spring migration. In winter, they stick to waters near the coast or forage in open water shallow enough to allow them to find prey on the seafloor. During the nesting season, they flock to various tundra habitats, generally in low marshy areas.


Eiders forage in the cold ocean waters in search of mussels, crabs, algae, and aquatic insects. They often dive down to the sea floor to find their prey. In the summer, they also eat plant matter.

Life Cycle

For king eiders, the female tends the nest on her own. She makes a scrape on the ground, usually near water, for the eggs (anywhere from 2 to 7 in number), and lines it with plant matter and soft down feathers. If threatened by an intruder, she will sit low on the nest with her head flattened on the ground. She hardly feeds at all during the incubation period, which lasts 22–24 days. Chicks are able to leave the nest soon after hatching.

Population Status & Threats

King eiders are considered a species of least concern by the IUCN Red List. However, there is some evidence that their populations have faced recent declines, especially in western North America. As a species that breeds only in the Arctic breeding, these birds are at risk from the impacts of global climate change.

WCS Conservation Efforts

WCS has a long history of conservation work in Arctic Alaska, dating back to 1897 when the first biological survey of Alaskan wildlife helped pass laws to control overhunting. Surveys supported by WCS in the 1950s led to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2001, we reestablished an active, on-the-ground presence in Arctic Alaska and today WCS conservationists are working to advance wildlife conservation in this once-remote region, amid a rapidly changing climate and expanding energy development.