Alaska Species Explorer

Steller’s Eider

Common Name: Steller’s Eider
Scientific Name: Polysticta stelleri

There are 2 populations of this species, a small Atlantic one that breeds in western Russia and winters in northern Europe and a larger Pacific population that breeds primarily in eastern Siberia and winters in Pacific waters. This small eider is frequently the most common breeding duck in the Arctic Coastal Plain near Barrow, Alaska—its primary breeding area in North America.

Conservation Status:

Concern about declining breeding populations is global. The decline of breeding in Alaska led to listing this population as Threatened in July 1997. Likewise Steller’s eider was recognized as a Category 3 or “rare” species in the Red Book for the Yakutia Republic in 1987 because of reduced breeding range, declining numbers, and illegal harvest.

Average Wingspan: 29 inches
Average Weight: 800-900 grams
Plumage Description:

Male has a white head and large white shoulder-patch contrasting with chestnut breast and belly that becomes darker centrally. Throat is a dark iridescent blue, with yoke extending in arrow shape down back. They have a distinctive black spot surrounding eye and a second in front of wings.  Female more likely confused with female Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) and female scoters (Melanitta spp.).  The head has a rusty tinge and whole body is purplish black with dark feather-centers only on back.

Diet in the Wild:

Marine invertebrates, crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic insects, berries, aquatic vegetation

Number of Eggs Per Clutch: 6-10 eggs
Incubation Period: 26 days

Nests near freshwater tundra ponds but shifts to shallow marine waters once breeding is complete.  Pairs breed in tundra habitats that contain abundant small freshwater ponds often associated with northern river deltas and the Arctic Coastal Plain. Although favored nest sites usually are described as hummocks among tundra ponds with short vegetation dominated by sedges, lichens, and sometimes willow.

Threats in the Wild: Foxes, jaegers, gulls, eagles, ravens, ingestion of lead shot, subsistence hunting
Did you know?:
  • Known as ‘soldier’s duck’ from its occasional habit of flocking birds swimming in single file.
  • It’s the smallest and fastest flying of the world’s 4 eiders.
  • ASLC is home to an innovative research project that is striving to reintroduce captive bred birds back into the wild
  • The native name for them means bird on fire or bird in the fire due to the males burnt orange color.
  • It is endemic to Alaska.  It’s rarely seen outside of Alaskan waters.