Steller’s Eider — Length 17 inches
Steller’s Eider is named in honor of the German naturalist and explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller, who collected the first specimens near Kamchatka, Russia, in 1740–1741. The Steller’s Jay of western North America is also named after him.
Steller’s Eiders distinguish themselves from Common, King, and Spectacled Eiders, all belonging to the genus Somateria, derived from the ancient Greek for “wooly bodied.” Steller’s Eider stands alone in its genus, Polysticta, originating from ancient Greek for “many-spotted.”
In Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska, the breeding success of Steller’s Eiders is linked to the abundance of brown lemmings. When lemmings are plentiful, Steller’s Eiders produce more offspring. This correlation may be attributed to the fact that Pomarine Jaegers, among the Arctic’s most predatory birds, spend less time raiding Steller’s Eider nests when there is an ample supply of lemmings to eat.
Following the breeding season, Steller’s Eiders gather at two large lagoon systems, Nelson Lagoon and Izembek Lagoon, on the Alaska Peninsula. They molt their flight feathers before moving to their wintering grounds, a phenomenon referred to by scientists as “molt migration.”
During the winter, Steller’s Eiders form large flocks. Members of these flocks dive synchronously, creating a spray as they dive and resurface in unison.
The oldest recorded Steller’s Eider was a female who lived for at least 23 years. She was banded in Alaska in 1975 and discovered in Russia in 1997.