U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri)

Designation: Threatened

Steller’s eiders are the smallest of four eider species, weighing about two pounds. They nest in the Arctic tundra in the spring/early summer, laying up to eight eggs in a nest that is lined with a thick bed of down. Young hatch in late June. After breeding, they move to near shore marine waters to molt and winter. They dive underwater to feed on invertebrates such as amphipods, aquatic insects, and clams.

Critical Habitat

Five units of critical habitat have been designated: breeding habitat on the YukonKuskokwim Delta and four units in marine waters of southwest Alaska that are important for molting, resting, feeding, and wintering. Approximately 2,800 square miles and 850 miles of coastline are included in critical habitat.

Steller's Eider on the Water
Steller's Eider on the Water. Photo Credit: USFWS
Steller's Eider Range Map
Steller's Eider Range Map

Distribution and Abundance

Three breeding populations are recognized, two in Arctic Russia and one in Alaska.  Only Steller’s eiders that nest in Alaska are listed as threatened.  In Alaska, the northern breeding population historically nested along the northern Arctic Coastal Plain from Wainwright to Cape Halkett. The western breeding population was reported nesting on the Seward Peninsula, St. Lawrence Island, and southern Norton Sound, but primarily nested on the central Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (Y-K Delta).

Currently, the only known North American nesting population is concentrated near Barrow in northern Alaska. Aerial surveys indicate abundance of roughly a few hundred individuals. The western Alaska subpopulation appears to have nearly disappeared; since 1970, only 11 nests have been reported from a few locations on the Y-K Delta.

Threats

Reasons for initial population decline and range contraction are unknown.  Ingestion of lead shot, shooting, and changes in predation patterns may have contributed to the decline, and may currently be limiting population growth.  

Conservation Efforts

We work with partners to:

1) Protect adults and increase the number of young produced by the Alaska-breeding population near Utqiagvik, where the highest densities of nesting Steller's eiders are found in Alaska.  Conservation activities include community outreach focused on habitat protection and reducing shooting, use of toxic lead ammunition, and disturbance during the breeding season.

2) Monitor the population through aerial and ground surveys; and,

3) Continue research to better understand the biology and needs of this species.

Banded Steller's Eider
Banded Steller's Eider. Photo credit: USFWS
Steller's eider hen and ducklings
Steller's eider hen and ducklings Photo credit: USFWS

Contacts

Neesha Stellrecht (907) 456-0297
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile