Saturday, 16 December 2017

Prince 'n Princess Eider at Cape Spear

Eiders are a common winter joy of birding on the Avalon Peninsula. An added spark comes when you pick a King Eider or two out of the flocks. This Saturday morning I was at Cape Spear for a seawatch hoping to see a movement of birds in the calm between back to back to back storms. There was no such flight, in fact it was the opposite with very little flying.  So I turned my attention to the little eider flock feeding off the point. The flock of < 30 birds was made up of immature eiders - all Common Eiders except for two King Eiders, a male and female.  The birds were too close to ignore with the camera despite the heavy overcast and resulting poor lighting conditions. Naturally I focused on the two King Eiders. The impending storm reduced the number of 'tourists' (non birders) to near zero so the birds were feeding relatively undisturbed.

These are the Prince 'n Princess King Eiders present at Cape Spear. In the following pictures note the following features.  The male is an immature, hatched in the summer of 2017. The broad orange lobes of the upper bill where it meets the forehead makes an immature King Eider stand out in an eider flock. The gray breast gradually turns white through the winter.  
Female King Eiders are less obvious but are pretty easy to pick out when you know what their trademarks are. 1) bill is largely gray including tip but there is often a pale ring around bill just before the nail. 2) there is usually a pale spot of feathering next to the base of the bill. This contrasts with the dark gray bill. At close range there is an upturn at the corner of the mouth (gape) creating a 'grin' expression which is characteristic of King Eider. 3) Note the pale eye shadow on the eye lids. This is especially evident in the female. Nothing so obvious on Common Eiders 4) Both male and female King Eiders have a slight bump on the ridge line of the bill. It is more pronounced on the male.  This contrasts with the long straight sloping bill (like a doorstop) of the Common Eider.
There is at least one King Eider in each of the following pictures.  Can you pick them all out?


  1. Very cool we had 3 King Eiders reported in Metro Vancouver this month. 2 were confirmed with photos. Beautiful birds first time in many years we had a nice adult male

    Merry Christmas to you and yours

    Thanks for the great post and sharing the nice pics. Best wishes to 2018

  2. Happy New Year! Thanks for this great post. The photos are an excellent fiollow-up to the descriptions that could not be articulated better!


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