Breeding plumage. Note: stout gray bill.
  • Male
  • Female (front) with two males
  • Breeding plumage. Note: stout gray bill.
  • Breeding plumage

Hover over to view. Click to enlarge.

Steller's Eider

Polysticta stelleri
The swans, geese and ducks are mid-sized to large birds most commonly found on or near water. Most have plump bodies, long necks and short wings. Most feed while on the water, diving or merely tilting their bodies so that their heads and necks are submerged to search for fish, plants and invertebrates. Washington representatives of the order all belong to one family:
The waterfowl family is represented in Washington by two distinct groups—the geese and swans, and the ducks. Whistling-ducks are also considered a distinct subfamily, and, although they have not been sighted in Washington in many years, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks have been recorded historically in Washington and remain on the official state checklist. All members of the waterfowl family have large clutches of precocial young. They hatch covered in down and can swim and eat on their own almost immediately after hatching.
  • Species of Concern

General Description

The smallest of the four eider species, Steller’s Eider breeds on tundra along the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea in Siberia and Alaska, and winters on ice-free rocky seacoasts southward to the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka, the Aleutian Islands, and the Alaska Peninsula. With its body boldly patterned in black, white, and buffy, and its white head with green and black markings, the fancy male in breeding plumage is unmistakable. In all other plumages, however, Steller’s Eider looks rather like a small, plain, dark-brown dabbling duck. The best clues to its identity are its short neck and flat-topped head. Unlike the other eider species, it has no feathering on the bill.

This seaduck is a very rare vagrant down the coast on both sides of the Pacific. The first Washington record was of a bird that spent the winter of 1986–1987 at Port Townsend (Jefferson County). Another stayed for several days at the Walla Walla River mouth (Walla Walla County) in September 1995, providing Washington’s only other accepted record. Oregon has a single record, California three, and Steller’s Eider has been seen four times in British Columbia.

The Alaska breeding population of Steller’s Eider was listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1997.

Revised June 2007

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Red List

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern