Spectacled Eider

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Spectacled Eider

Somateria fischeri

ListedMay 10, 1993
DescriptionA sea-duck.
HabitatBreeds on tundra lowlands and winters in boreal coastal waters.
FoodMainly marine invertebrates.
ReproductionLays eggs in a down-lined, grassy nest on the ground. The female incubates the eggs and cares for the young.
ThreatsHunting, petroleum spills, and habitat loss.
RangeAlaska; Russia


The spectacled eider is a large-bodied diving duck. It is also known as Fisher's eider, as quageq in Yupik (a Siberian language), and as quvaasuk in Inupiat (an Alaskan language). The typical body weight is about 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg). The adult male has a green head with a long, sloping forehead, large white eye patches, a black chest, and a white back. Juveniles and adult females are colored overall brown, with less distinct eye patches. The spectacled eider differs from other eiders in having its feathers extend to the nostrils on the beak. The bill is bright orange on males and blue-gray on females and immatures. Both sexes have bright yellow feet.


The spectacled eider feeds primarily on benthic mollusks and crustaceans in shallow coastal waters. It usually feeds by dabbling, and rarely dives. On the coastal breeding grounds, it feeds on aquatic crustaceans, aquatic insects, and plant biomass. The spectacled eider lays its clutch of eggs (average 4.5 eggs) in a down-lined grassy nest. The eggs are incubated by the female, who also cares for the chicks until they become independent.


The spectacled eider nests on shorelines of the mainland or islands and in meadows in coastal tundra, usually within 10 mi (15 km) of the seacoast. During the non-breeding season it feeds in shallow water, and occurs in coastal areas with water less than about 100 ft (30 m) deep.


The spectacled eider breeds at various places along the coast of Alaska, from the Nushagak Peninsula on Bristol Bay, north to Barrow, and east almost to the Yukon border. It also nests on St. Lawrence Island in the Aleutians, and along the Arctic coast of northeastern Russia from the Chukotsk Peninsula west to the Yana Delta. The highest-density breeding grounds are the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in Alaska, and the Chaun, Indigirka, Kolyma, and Yana Deltas in Siberia. The primary winter range is thought to be in the central and northwestern Bering Sea. Migrant flocks stage offshore from St. Lawrence Island, where they are regularly seen in the spring and fall. Some birds have also been documented during the winter in nearshore waters of southwestern Alaska and British Columbia.


Monitoring data suggest that the spectacled eider has undergone a massive decline in abundance in its Alaskan range. Before 1972, in "good years," there were an estimated 70,000 breeding pairs in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, another 3,000 pairs elsewhere in Alaska, and 30,000-40,000 pairs in Russia. During 1990-1992, however, there were only 1,700-3,000 nesting pairs on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, plus several thousand on the North Slope of Alaska. Overall, this represents a 94-98% population decline from the early 1970s. It is not known whether the spectacled eider has also declined in Siberia. The causes of the Alaskan population decline are not known for certain. The spectacled eider has not suffered much loss of its breeding or other habitat. The are no substantial threats to its principal breeding habitat on the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Some nesting habitat on the North Slope has been damaged during the exploration and development of petroleum resources, but there is still extensive suitable habitat there. The species is also potentially threatened by the spillage of petroleum in coastal waters. Eiders and other sea ducks have traditionally been harvested by local people during migration, and birds and eggs have been taken on some nesting grounds for subsistence use by aboriginal peoples. However, the harvest of spectacled eiders for these purposes is relatively small compared to the total harvest of sea ducks, and is unlikely to have caused the extensive population decline. The eggs, young, and occasionally adults of the spectacled eider are taken by natural predators, particularly arctic fox (Alopex lagopus ), glaucous gull (Larus hyperboreus ), and parasitic jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus ). The intensity of this natural predation is not known, but it is unlikely to have caused the massive population decline of the rare eider.

Conservation and Recovery

The harvest of eiders (including the spectacled eider) is regulated under the authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The sport-hunting season on spectacled eiders in the United States has been closed since 1991. An aboriginal subsistence harvest continues, however, with at least 500 birds harvested per year. The current Russian harvest may be high, but good data are not available. Although the spring and summer subsistence hunting of eiders in Alaska is in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, this ban has not always been enforced by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in recognition of the traditional practices and subsistence needs of local aboriginal peoples. Since 1993, however, the ban on hunting of spectacled eiders has been more rigorously enforced. The FWS has also initiated an information and education program to gain public support for the protection of the threatened spectacled eider. Studies are being undertaken to determine the habitat needs of eiders for staging, molting, and wintering, as well as the potential risks to these habitats. Population monitoring of the species is also being continued. In 2000, the FWS proposed to designate critical habitat for the spectacled eider in areas of the North Slope, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Norton Sound, Ledyard Bay, and marine waters adjacent to these places, as well as the Bering Sea between St. Lawrence and St. Matthew Islands. These areas total about 74,500 sq mi (192,954.9 hectares).


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1011 E. Tudor Rd., Room 135
Anchorage, Alaska 99503
Telephone: (907) 786-3909
Fax: (907) 786-3844

Anchorage Field Office
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
605 West 4th Ave.
Anchorage, Alaska 99501


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 8 February 2000. "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Designation of Critical Habitat for the Spectacled Eider." Federal Register 65 (26):6114-6131.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Rule to List Spectacled Eider as Threatened." http://endangered.fws.gov/r/fr93503.html

Van Arsdale, M. 2000. "Somateria fischeri Spectacled Eider." University of Michigan. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/somateria/s._fischeri.html