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Common Eider

These large sea ducks are known for their large range and striking appearance.

Once a major species hunted for markets, the large Common Eider inhabits arctic and near-arctic coastal marine habitats. Common Eiders nest colonially in large groups. In Iceland, they have become almost tame. Farmers protect them from predators, and harvest the eider down from nests in a sustainable way.

Common Eiders dive to depths of around 10 meters. Most dives are less than a minute in duration, but can last up to two minutes as they gather their preferred food consisting of marine invertebrates.

The Common Eider is a large, stocky sea duck with an elongated head shape and large bill. Males and females differ greatly in plumage.

All the following images are © staff photographer Glenn Bartley.


Description of the Common Eider


Male Common Eiders are distinctive, and not easily confused with other species.  Large, white body with black tail and markings on the side,  Sloping yellow bill leads to black crown.  Non-breeding season males become mostly dark brownish and resemble the female.

– White back and black sides.
– Black cap.

common eider

Photograph © Glenn Bartley

Common Eider male in flight
The black belly is obvious in flight. Relatively small wings for a heavy body.

Common Eider male in flight
White on back extends onto the wing.


Pale to rich brownish with darker barring.

Common Eiders

Female common Eider with an escort.


Common Eiders female

Females are pale to rich brown with darker barring. Juveniles resemble females.  The bill shape remains a distinguishing characteristic.


Seasonal change in appearance

Non-breeding season males become mostly dark brownish.


Resemble females.


Rocky coastlines, islands, and tundra.


Mainly mollusks.

Common Eider

Photograph © Glenn Bartley. Female in flight.  Barred back with rich chestnut coloring.  Note the bill and head shape.


Forages by diving underwater or by submerging head.


Breeds along high latitude marine coasts as far south as the northeastern most U.S. Winters as far south as the southern Atlantic coast.

Fun Facts

The Common Eider is the largest duck in North America.

Female Common Eiders frequently return to the area where they hatched to nest as an adult.


Hoarse grunts can be produced.

Similar Species

  • King Eider females are smaller and have more rounded heads.


The nest is a down-lined depression on the ground.

Number: 3-5.
Color: Olive-green.

Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 24-25 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) soon after hatching but remain with the female for some time.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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