Northern Eider
Somateria mollissima borealis


Dick Newell


early July 2002



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The scapular sails shown by this drake (taken Amsterdamoya on 7th July 2002) seem to be a particularly marked feature of some Common Eider races and not others. These are structures which are to be seen on both King Eiders and Spectacled Eiders. Many of the drake Northern Eiders in Svalbard showed this feature. However, there are many photographs on the internet of birds, including some females, maybe all borealis or dresseri, showing these sails (thank you to Bram Aarts for pointing these out to me). If this is a consistent feature of some forms and not others, then it is surprising the field guides do not mention it. The Photographic Handbook of the Wildfowl of the World (Ogilvie and Young) mentions this feature for Pacific (v-nigra), American (dresseri) and Hudson Bay (sedentaria) Eiders , describing them as “peaks on the side of the mantle”, but not for Northern Eider borealis. Apart from 1 photo in Ogilvie and Young of an apparent European Eider in Scotland showing a small lump on the scapulars, I know of no other evidence that this feature occurs in mollissima (or faroensis).

The bills of the 2 females, taken in Longyearbyen on 12th July, do not look especially short to me (supposedly a feature of borealis), but they do have a large nail.




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