The Spectacled Eider (Somateria fischeri) is a large sea duck that breeds on the coasts of Alaska and northeastern Siberia. They are named for the large white “spectacles” around its eyes, the Spectacled Eider’s striking look sets them apart from other marine birds.
When they are not nesting, these ducks spend most of the year in the frigid waters of the Arctic, where they eat bottom-dwelling mollusks and crustaceans. During the winter months, these ducks move far offshore to deep waters, where they often gather in dense flocks in openings of nearly continuous sea ice.
Unlike other sea ducks, Spectacled Eiders appear to remain in only a few areas and become vulnerable during their molting season as they cannot fly away from a hazard. Spectacled Eiders also use long large cracks in the ice where water flows in their migration.
The U.S. population is approximately 3,000-4,000 nesting pairs.
Historically, Spectacled Eiders nested along much of the coast of Alaska, from the Nushagak Peninsula in the southwest, north to Barrow, east nearly to the Canadian border, and along much of the Arctic coast of Russia. However, climate change and oil and gas development have drastically reduced their habitat range. As a result the western Alaskan population of Spectacled Eiders dropped by 96 percent between 1957 and 1992.
The threat of oil and gas development in and near Teshekpuk Lake, known as an Important Bird area of global significance, is a possible threat to the Spectacled Eider’s future. Representative Doc Hastings’ proposed legislation to drill in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska could open up the most sensitive areas like Teshekpuk Lake to drilling and lead to the downfall of this threatened species.
The Spectacled Eider also faces possible threats from oil and gas development in the Arctic Ocean as there is currently no effective way of cleaning an oil spill in the Arctic sea ice environment.