The Spectacled eider is a large mysterious sea duck that breeds on the coasts of Alaska and northeastern Siberia. The male is unmistakable with its black body, white back, and yellow-green head with the large circular white eye patches which give the species its name. The female is a rich brown bird with the paler visible goggles. Immature birds and eclipse adult drakes are similar in appearance to the female.
Spectacled eiders occur along the coast of Alaska and easternmost Russia and into the Bering Sea. There are two breeding populations in Alaska and one in Russia. These birds breed in wet tundra on small lakes, pools, bogs, and streams. Other seasons they spend at sea.
Spectacled eiders are social birds; during the winter they usually gather in large flocks in the openings in the sea ice but outside the winter, they fly in small groups of up to 50 birds or less. They are active during the day. As diving ducks, Spectacled eiders forage for food in the water by swimming and diving underwater. It is believed that they are able to remain submerged longer than most diving ducks. Spectacled eiders are usually silent but twill communicate vocally when they need to; the male's call is a weak crooning, and the female's a harsh croak.
Spectacled eiders are serially monogamous and form pairs each breeding season. Breeding pairs are formed in the wintering grounds before spring migration through male displays and female selection. Once at the nesting sites, females build a nest close to the pond on a raised ridge, called a hummock, that is lined with plant materials and feathery down. Nests may be reused for future years. Females are the sole incubators and caretakers of the eggs and chicks and will lay on average 3 to 6 eggs with an olive buff color. Eggs are incubated for 24 days. Ducklings leave the nest shortly after hatching and are led to the water by their mother. They can fly at about 53 days after hatching and are ready to breed at 2-3 years of age.
The greatest threats to Spectacled eider populations include climate change and habitat loss. Historically their range was much larger than just the coast of Alaska and Russia. It also used to extend from the Nushagak Peninsula to Barrow and almost all the way to the Canadian border. Since Spectacled eiders live in frigid areas that are not easily accessible to humans their main habitat loss has been a result of climate change. A future threat to their habitat is the possible development of oil and gas drilling near Teshekpuk Lake (Alaska) which has well been established as a globally significant important bird area. These birds also suffer from poisoning, reduced prey availability, entanglement in fishing gear during the molting period, and from predation by foxes and large gulls on eggs and chicks.
The IUCN Red List doesn't provide the number of the Spectacled eider total population size. However, in 2010 in the Bering Sea it was estimated around 369,122 individuals. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service resource, the total population size of the species is around 360,000 individuals, including 3,000-4,000 pairs on Alaska’s Arctic Coastal Plain. Overall, currently, Spectacled eiders are classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are decreasing.