Female Steller’s Eider, Chignik River. Rarely seen on the river, Steller’s Eiders inhabit The Chignik’s nearby ocean bays and estuaries. (November 16, 2016)
Straight away I could see that the small, dark duck bobbing on the Chignik on a cold, windy, misty November day was something “different.” As it was milling around at a downriver location I couldn’t get to, I snapped a couple of photographs from a distance and hoped I’d be able to figure it out when I got home and could look at my Sibley’s Field Guide and the various bird websites bookmarked on my computer.
I was not guessing eider. New to birding, the only eiders I’d ever seen were further north – rocketing splashes of color pointed out to me by local Natives as they winged by. Brilliantly marked drakes. A friend at The Lake tells me he sees King Eiders down at The Bay. If I can get my boat out to The Lake…
Steller’s Eider drakes are, to say the least, eye-catching when they’re in breeding plumage. (Wikipedia: Steller’s Eider Polysticta stelleri)–
During the breeding season, Steller’s Eiders head to Siberia and the Alaskan Arctic. The rest of the year, the Aleutians and the Alaska Peninsula are good places to find them. As is the case with Brant, Cackling Geese and Emperor Geese, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, located at the end of the Alaska Peninsula, is a good place to find them.
Like many other diving ducks, eiders are catholic in their diets. At sea they primarily go for mollusks, worms, small fish and crustaceans. While on their tundra breeding grounds, they consume fairy shrimp, insects, grasses, sedges, and berries.
Eiders, Point Hope, Alaska. (August 30, 2012)
These Arctic ducks are especially sensitive to a changing climate. Their numbers are in decline. Probably one reason for this is that as temperatures warm, various predators – particularly those of eggs and nestlings – are able to move northward.
Steller’s Eider Range Map: with permission from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of the World
Steller’s Eider Polysticta stelleri
Polysticta: from Greek: poly = many; sticte = varied or spotted
stelleri: Latinization of Steller – German zoologist/naturalist George Wilhelm Steller
Status at Chignik Lake, 2016-19: Rare Wintertime Visitor on Chignik River
David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63: Not Reported
Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010: Common in Spring, Fall and Winter; Absent in Summer
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Bird List: Present
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*For a clickable list of bird species and additional information about this project, click here: Birds of Chignik Lake
© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.
What a beautiful duck. The male is spectacular! I like the maps you provide with the coloured locations of their habitats.
Thanks, Gerowyn. I was happy that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology/Birds of the World granted permission to include these very useful maps in these articles.