WatchList Species Account for Spectacled Eider
(Somateria fischeri)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Photo: USFWS
Photo: USFWS

Found at northern latitudes on the north and west coasts of Alaska and the north coast of eastern Russia, the Spectacled Eider breeds in three disjunct populations, two in Alaska and one in Russia. Currently the Russian population is much larger than the two Alaska populations.


Spectacled Eiders winter in the Bering Sea south of St. Lawrence Island within a 1,448 square mile range, congregating in holes in the pack ice. Several sites along the Alaskan and Russian coasts are main molting areas. Habitat on the breeding grounds includes areas with numerous thaw lakes, freshwater and brackish ponds, seasonally flooded wetlands, and wet meadows. Males leave their mates and young after a few weeks and return to the sea, where they spend 11 months of the year, while adult females spend eight or nine months at sea. During the breeding season their food is primarily insects, while during the winter this bird feeds primarily on clams.


Population trends in the species are alarming; in western Alaska the population declined by 96% between 1957 and 1992. More recent data suggests that the western Alaska population is stable or declining only slightly. As of 2000, the nesting population was estimated at fewer than 4,000 females, down from 50,000 in the 1970s. In 1995, the population in Arctic Russia was estimated at fewer than 140,000 birds.


Lead poisoning is a leading cause of mortality and some habitat has been degraded by lead shot. Up to 10% of adults are killed by hunters in Russia, although hunting and egg-collecting was prohibited in Alaska in 1991 and there is a ban on the use of lead shot. Oil field development in Alaska has also reduced available habitat.


Because of the severe declines in the western Alaska populations and possible declines in the northern Alaska and Russian populations, the bird has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.