Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
King Eider - Somateria spectabilis
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General Comments Until the 1980's, the King Eider was a casual to very rare winter visitor to the state's coastal areas; however, from the mid-1980's to the mid-1990's, records of this sea duck exploded in North Carolina, with close to two dozen reports -- several each winter, especially in the Oregon Inlet area. However, since the mid-1990's, records have dropped off sharply, and it is now once again a very rare find. In fact, one seen in Dare in Nov 2017 was the first state report in eight years, and two females at Nags Head (Dare) in Jan-Feb 2020 was a "good" count these days. Whether this recent decline is related to a decline in the breeding population, or to global warming (warmer winters), is not known; however, the similar Common Eider is not showing a decline, and in fact seems to be increasing (at least in sightings). King Eiders are restricted to salt water in the state, most often found around jetties or piers, but also in the inshore ocean and around inlets; only a few records are for sounds and bays. Winter reports are almost all of females or immature males; adult male sightings are exceedingly rare. Interestingly, when the 1959 version of "Birds of North Carolina" (Pearson et al., 1959) was published, this was the only eider species recorded in the state.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Scarce winter visitor; declining. Very rare along the entire coast, though somewhat more likely from Cape Hatteras northward. No true Tidewater records, nor any from farther inland. Mainly mid-Nov to late Mar. The most remarkable state record ever might be an immature male photographed on Bogue Sound -- as opposed to the inshore ocean --at Emerald Isle (Carteret) on the extremely late dates of 23-26 May 2023 [Chat 87:51 link]. Peak count: 6 (2 immature males and 4 females), Oregon Inlet, 29 Dec 1991.
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips The finding tips for King Eider are identical to that of the Common Eider; look around jetties, or perhaps at and under piers. Only rarely do the two species occur together in NC. Each species has been seen in numbers up to six or seven birds on a few occasions, but single birds, or at most three birds, are the general rule. As might be expected for the southern edge of the winter range, nearly all birds are immatures. Reports of adult male eiders in state waters are very few indeed.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-08-09], LeGrand[2020-04-17], LeGrand[2018-02-19]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.