Somateria fischerispectacled eider

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Geographic Range

The Spectacled Eider is found along the west coast of Alaska, between Point Barrow and the Lower Kuskokwim River. They are most abundant in the Yukon Delta.

Habitat

The breeding habitat of the spectacled eider is generally near shores, lakes, and deltas along the coast of Alaska. The ducks prefer lowland tundra with small ponds and close proximity to the salt water. They require high grasses to build the nests. The non-breeding habitat is uncertain.

Physical Description

These ducks are sexually dimorphic. With wings folded, the adult male duck is 255-267 mm long, while the female is 240-250 mm. The weight is approximately 1.63 kilograms for males and 1.6 kilograms for females.

The spectacled eider differs from other eiders in that its feathers extend down to the nostrils on the bill. This bill is bright orange on males and blue-gray on females. Both sexes have bright yellow feet. Male eiders, however, have a black chest and pale green head. They are best distinguished by their white patches around the eyes, which are encircled by black feathers to give the appearance of spectacles. Female are drab in comparison. They are brown with black discontinuous streaks and bars of brown. The females also have patches round the eyes, but they are light brown.

  • Range mass
    1600 to 1630 g
    56.39 to 57.44 oz

Reproduction

Breeding generally occurs on the Alaskan coast and in northeastern Siberia. Pair bonds form at the beginning of each breeding season, during which there is constant contact between members of a pair. These bonds break immediately after the breeding season is over. To initiate breeding, females perform inciting movements and calls. Males respond by performing ritualized displays that include exposing the blackened chest. Nesting occurs in the grass flats or on the periphery of tundra ponds. The nest is built by the female and is lined with grass stems and a large amount of down. Once eggs are laid, the female is very protective of the nest and will often be extremely hesitant to leave, even allowing people to touch her. Clutch sizes average 4.5 eggs and range in number from one to eight. An egg is laid every other day. Incubation lasts for approximately 24 days while the fledging period lasts for 53 days. Drakes are able to mate when they are two years old.

Behavior:

  • Average eggs per season
    4.5
  • Average time to hatching
    24 days
  • Average fledging age
    53 days

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

The spectacled eider migrates to the breeding locations around May and leaves for wintering ground in late July and August. It is not known where the birds migrate to in the winter. The ducks generally fly in groups of two or three or by themselves. When flying, they are close to the surface of the water. In the non-breeding season, they are not found in social groups. They are more social during the breeding season and have been known to form colonies, with the nests very close together. The spectacled eider is most active during the day, especially in the summer months. The drake is generally non-vocal, but the female has been heard making growling or croaking noises.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The ducks are omnivorous. The majority of their diet includes mollusks, such as Razor clams. They also feed on terrestrial and freshwater plant material. Juveniles have been found to eat caddis fly larvae. The spectacled eider rarely dives and is seen mostly dabbling for food.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Humans have hunted the spectacled eider in the past. Eskimos have stated that this is the best tasting eider. The pelts and eggshells have also been used for decorative purposes. Another benefit of the eider is the esthetic value that comes from seeing such an unusually colored bird.

Conservation Status

The spectacled eider is uncommon. This is mostly due to the small location of where the bird is found. The bird population has been reported as declining in the past. To counteract this decline there have been attempts to raise the birds in captivity, but these efforts are limited by the difficulty of obtaining the eggs during the arctic summer. Spectacled eiders were first hatched in captivity in 1976. The major concern for the bird now is determining the location of the non-breeding habitat. This is important to know because the habitat of this bird could be unintentionally destroyed, especially if it is in a very concentrated area.

Other Comments

Although their winter residence is still unknown, some researchers suspect it is somewhere in the Bering Sea and possibly on southern edge of the ice pack. The ducks are sometimes seen resting on floating ice.

Contributors

Michael Van Arsdale (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

coastal

the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tundra

A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Bellrose, Frank C. 1976. Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America. Stockpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Johnsgard, Paul A. 1975. Waterfowl of North America. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.

Todd, Frank S. 1979. Waterfowl: Ducks, Geese, and Swans of the World. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York.