Visiting the Arctic – Sea Ducks

As you might expect, sea ducks are ducks that have adapted to a life at sea. All of them are diving ducks, with some species capable of reaching depths of 200’.

Alaska supports 100% of the U.S. breeding populations of several northerly species of sea ducks including King Eiders, Spectacled Eiders, Steller’s Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks, and Black, White-Winged, and Surf Scoters.

Utqiagvik is the most reliable place to see King, Spectacled, and Steller’s Eiders as well as Long-tailed Ducks.

All four of these species were on my bucket list. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

The most abundant diving duck in the high Arctic is the Long-tailed Duck. Long-tailed Ducks breed along the Arctic coast and over-winter at sea as far south as South Carolina and Washington.

Long-tailed Ducks are known by their long tail feathers. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/2000. ©Stanley Buman.

King Eiders visit land only during the breeding and nesting season. Otherwise, they will remain in frigid waters during the winter, staying as far north as the open sea water will allow.

The King Eider males are known for their ornate plumage and are a favorite amongst many birders. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/2000. ©Stanley Buman.

The Spectacled Eiders also come ashore during the breeding and nesting season. During the winter months, they may be found near the coastline but are often far offshore, living along edges and openings of floating pack ice.

The Spectacled Eider is named for the bold black-rimmed eye patch on each side of the male’s head. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/2000. ©Stanley Buman.

Unlike the other two eiders, the Spectacled Eider winters mostly in lagoons and coastal bays along the Aleutian Islands.

The only known location where Steller’s Eiders still regularly nest in North America is near Utqiagvik. Hence birders visiting the area don’t want to leave without seeing this species. This image was taken at 4:11 a.m. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 2500, f/7.1, 1/2000. ©Stanley Buman.

All three eiders rely on the high Arctic for their nesting grounds. As you might expect, the vulnerability status due to climate change is high for all three species. Long-tailed Ducks have a moderate vulnerability status but their population is also declining. I hope we can act fast enough to address climate change to keep these species from becoming extinct.

6 thoughts on “Visiting the Arctic – Sea Ducks”

  1. Patricia Eshleman

    Great pictures, Stan. I understand the fascination with ducks…they are like individual works of art…almost as if they were hand painted. Amazing…

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