Sunday Duck O’ the Week

Biologist John Avise continues with his photo series of ducks found in North America. Your job is to guess the species. You’ll find the ID, John’s duck notes, and a range map below the fold. I hope you know this one!

Adult hen:

Adult drake:

Drake standing:

Young drake:

Young drake molting:

Immature pair:

Drake portrait:

Click “read more” to get the ID, duck facts, and a range map:

Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)

The Northern Hemisphere’s largest-bodied duck, this sea duck breeds colonially along high-latitude shorelines (e.g., around the Arctic Ocean), but some birds winter as far south as the northern U.S. coast.  Eiders are famous for their fluffy down feathers, which they need for warmth and to line their ground-scrape nests.  Indeed, near the end of the 19th century, a commercial market for Eider feathers (e.g., for pillows and quilts) nearly led to the species’ demise in the Atlantic region.   Thankfully, Common Eider populations today are recovering and doing much better.   Some experts think East-Arctic and West-Arctic populations merit recognition as separate species.  [My photographs were taken in Norway and Northern Ireland.]  I especially love the pea-green color on the back of the adult drake’s head.  Offhand, I can’t think of another avian species with this particular shade of green.  Can you?

And a range map from the Cornell bird site:



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 23, 2020 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    That’s a cool duck!

    The range is particularly interesting – it’s very clear the duck stays on the shore area – not inland.

    • Jacques Hausser
      Posted August 23, 2020 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      It’s not the case in Europe. For instance, common eiders are wintering regularly on the swiss lakes, and since 1988 some are even nesting here. That is probably due to the increase of ressources: during the 20th century our lakes were invaded by a mussel from Ukraine and Russia, Dreissena polymorpha… which is also invading the american great lakes.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted August 23, 2020 at 9:01 am | Permalink


  2. Wendy Smith
    Posted August 23, 2020 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I found a clutch of 18 eggs back in the 70s on Big Duck Island off of Mt Desert. That was fun!

  3. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted August 23, 2020 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Impressive duck!

  4. Posted August 23, 2020 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    “Offhand, I can’t think of another avian species with this particular shade of green. Can you?”

    I think some turacos have a color similar to this.

    • john avise
      Posted August 23, 2020 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Great call! I just looked up the Guinea turaco (Tauraco presa) on the internet, and it does indeed appear to have a green color very similar to that of the Eider.

      • Posted August 23, 2020 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        Some people have perfect pitch but I’m tone deaf. But as a birdwatcher I developed perfect color memory. This let me identify birds even if I could only see just a tiny part of them.

  5. Posted August 23, 2020 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Those ducks are exceptionally handsome! Even by duck standards.

  6. rickflick
    Posted August 23, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I guessed right. The shape of the bill gave the hint.

  7. Mobius
    Posted August 23, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Oooo. That adult drake is so pretty. Just black and white, but a lovely pattern. Why is it the male birds are always the pretty ones? (OK, I already know the answer.)

    • Paul Matthews
      Posted August 23, 2020 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Not quite always. Check out the phalaropes.

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