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Common Eider

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Latin: Somateria mollissima
Average length: M 24", F 22.5"
Average weight: M 4.3 lbs., F 3.3 lbs.

Description: Common eiders are the largest duck found in the northern hemisphere. They are stocky, thick-necked birds that hold their heads below body level during flight. Male common eiders have a primarily white head, neck, chest and back. The breast, belly, sides, rump, tail coverts and tail are black. The crown and forehead have a black cap, while the cheeks are pale green and are used in breeding displays. A white round spot occurs on the black flank just forward of the tail. The head has a distinct sloping profile. The bill is olive-gray, turning yellowish near the facial area, and the legs and feet are grayish-green. Female common eiders are russet-brown to gray. All are heavily barred with dark brown lines on their backs, chests, breasts, sides and flanks. The head has a distinct sloping profile. The bill is olive-gray to olive-yellow and the legs and feet are grayish.


Breeding: Common eiders are circumpolar in their range, breeding along the coastline of Alaska, nearly the entire coastline of Hudson Bay and eastern Canada, as well as the northern coast of Maine. They typically nest on islands or coastline. Nesting habitat varies from open areas or in grasses and weeds to under shrubs and spruce trees. Female common eiders often nest in dense colonies (but also nest individually) and lay an average of 3-5 eggs.


Migrating and Wintering: Common eiders are difficult to track because most migrate over large water bodies and remote areas. In the east, they winter from Greenland to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and south along the Atlantic Coast to Virginia. In the west, they winter south to southern Alaska.


Population: In North America four races of common eiders are recognized: Pacific, Hudson Bay, Northern and Atlantic. In the mid-1970s, the North American population was estimated at 1.5 to 2 million birds. In northeastern North America, the average annual fall flight in the mid-1980s was estimated at 311,000-376,000 birds and the annual number of nesting pairs in the mid-1990s was estimated at 71,000. A general decline has been observed in all North American races. Declines are thought to be connected with high harvest levels as well as a decline in food abundance and quality, but much is still unknown.


Food habits: Common eiders dive to feed on mollusks and crustaceans found in shallow waters around submerged ledges and reefs off rocky coastlines.



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