Arctic Species: King Eider

The King Eider is the much rarer, but also more beautiful brother of the Common Eider. The female is very similar to that of the Common Eider, with a bit a ‘friendlier’ face, but the drake is much more beautiful. With a red bill and a bright orange knob at the base, a salmon coloured breast and a blue-grey head he is one of the favourite birds of many birders coming to Spitsbergen.

Three drakes King Eiders (on the right) in a flock of Common Eiders

King Eider – Somateria spectabilis
Length: 55 – 63cm, wingspan: 87 – 100 cm
Drake more colourful as Common Eider, with a big orange knob at the base of the bill. Female very similar to Common.

Drakes are most often seen early in the season when they wait for the tundra ponds to melt. They seem to have a preference to breed close to those ponds, in contrast to the Common Eiders, who tend to breed on islands in front of the coast. The drake leaves the female with the eggs and finds a place to moult, while the female takes care of the ducklings. In this time of year, it often pays off checking large groups of Common Eiders, as one or two Kings might be hiding in between.

A group of King Eiders in early season



Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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