Polysticta stelleri 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Anseriformes Anatidae

Scientific Name: Polysticta stelleri (Pallas, 1769)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Steller's Eider
Spanish Eider chico, Eider de Steller
Taxonomic Source(s): Cramp, S. and Simmons, K.E.L. (eds). 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Identification information: 43-47 cm. Smallish marine duck with squarish head and angular bill; breeding plumage male unmistakable (in eclipse blackish with white secondary coverts); 1st winter male brown with faint suggestion of male head markings - blackish throat and collar; female red-brown with blue tertials (except 1st winter when brown) and whitish inner webs. Most female-type plumages show pale eye ring. Flight fast with rapid beats; male shows white forewing and trailing edge, female has thin white wing bar and trailing edge. Similar spp. Best told from other Eiders in non adult male plumage by shape and size supported by various plumage features described above. Hints Occurs in tight flocks which dive simultaneously, search amongst other eider species away from main range.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2bcd+3bcd+4bcd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Artukhin, Y., Burfield, I., Dau, C., Laing, K., Martin, K., Pihl, S., Solovyeva, D., Stehn, H. & Stehn, R.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Anderson, O., Ashpole, J, Butchart, S., Crawford, R., Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Gilroy, J., Harding, M., Moreno, R., Temple, H.
This species is listed as Vulnerable because it is undergoing a rapid population reduction, particularly in the key Alaskan populations. Further studies are needed to determine the causes of these declines, and whether some populations may have shifted to unsurveyed areas within the range.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species breeds between the Kolyma Delta and the Yamal Peninsula, Russia, and on the Arctic plain of Alaska, U.S.A. (C. Dau in litt. 1999, Frederickson 2001). A remnant population breeds in western Alaska. Non-breeding populations summer in Novaya Zemlya, Russia, northern Norway and adjacent Russian waters, and south-west Alaska (C. Dau in litt. 1999). Birds breeding east of the Khatanga Gulf, Russia, winter in the Bering Sea. Small numbers winter in northern Japan. Birds breeding west of the Khatanga Gulf winter in the north-east Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea. The total population estimate is 130,000-150,000 individuals. Wintering populations in Europe were estimated at 7,700-20,800 individuals in 2000 (BirdLife International 2004), but this did not include all Russian populations: the total for Europe and Russia was estimated at 23,060-36,160 individuals. The European wintering population (including European Russia) was recently estimated at 30,800-41,200 individuals (BirdLife International 2015). In Europe, marked declines have been noted in recent years, with an estimated decline of 66.4% in the Baltic Sea between sea basin-wide surveys in 1993 and 2009 (Skov et al. 2011) and by 8% per annum in Norway between 1985 and 2003 (Žydelis et al. 2006). Estimates of birds wintering in Alaska declined from 137,904 in 1992 to 74,369 individuals in 2011 (Larned 2012), with a decline rate equivalent to 2.3% per year; however, a higher frequency of optimally-timed counts in early years of the survey likely resulted in a slight negative trend bias of unknown magnitude (Larned 2012). The poorly known population wintering in east Asia may have declined by 20-40% to c.20,000-25,000 birds (R. A. Stehn in litt. to Anseriformes Draft Action Plan), including 10,000-15,000 birds recently estimated to winter in the Russian Far East (D. Solovieva in litt. 2005). The number of eiders wintering on Bering Island, in the Commander Islands near Kamchatka, Russia, declined from estimates of 10,000 in the 1960s (Marakov 1965) to between 3,356-4,994 in 2005, 2006 and 2007 (Y. Artukhin, per K. Laing in litt. 2007, Belobrov and Artukhin 2008). It is possible that some of these declines reflect population redistribution to unknown areas. It has been speculated that declines in the Baltic could result from the population shifting to waters around the Kola Peninsula, Russia (Žydelis et al. 2006), although a survey of parts of this area in 2003 did not reveal sufficiently large numbers to confirm this (Krasnov et al. 2004). However for the period 1995-2009 the population in Russia was estimated to have increased by 70-180% (BirdLife International 2015).

Countries occurrence:
Estonia; Finland; Japan; Latvia; Lithuania; Norway; Poland; Russian Federation (Central Asian Russia, Eastern Asian Russia, European Russia); Sweden; United States
Belgium; China; Denmark; France; Germany; Greenland; Iceland; Netherlands; Svalbard and Jan Mayen; United Kingdom
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:9240000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):UnknownExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:11-100Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Various population estimates include: c.10,000-15,000 wintering individuals in north Norway and the south-east Baltic (based on a count of 4,297 off Kola Peninsula in April 2003 [Krasnov et al. 2004], 2,300 in the whole Baltic in 2009 (Skov et al., 2011) and c.2,700 wintering off Norway in the same year (Aarvak et al., 2012); c.100,000-110,000 wintering individuals in the north Pacific (counts in north America declined from 137,904 in 1992 to 77,329 in 2003, and 74,369 in 2011, forming the basis of 2003 North American population estimate of 90,000-95,000 individuals [K. Laing in litt. 2005 to Wetlands International 2006]; however, the population has since declined to 74,369 individuals in 2011 [Larned 2012]); c.20,000 migrating individuals through the Kamchatka Peninsula in spring (Gerasimov and Gerasimov 2003),c.100-10,000 breeding pairs in Russia and c.23,000 wintering individuals were recorded in Russia in March 2009(Aarvak et al., 2012). The minimum European population in winter is currently estimated at 30,800-41,200 individuals, which equates to 20,500-27,500 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). There is also a marginal breeding population in Europe estimated at 5-50 pairs, which equates to 10-100 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Based on the current European wintering population estimate of 30,800-41,200 individuals (BirdLife International 2015) and an estimate of 100,000-110,000 individuals wintering in the north Pacific, the total population is estimated at c.130,000-150,000 individuals.

Trend Justification:  Based on population estimates of birds staging in southwest Alaska, the Alaskan population declined by 2.3% per year since 1992 (or 46% over 20 years), during 1992-2011 (Larned 2012). Declines in Europe have been even steeper, with an estimated decline of 66.4% between Baltic-wide surveys in 1993 and 2009 (Skov et al., 2011). It is unclear, however, whether these declines were genuine, or reflect a redistribution to other wintering areas, including Russia (Aarvak et al., 2012). Conservatively assuming the Asian population was stable over this time, and taking into account the smaller relative size of the European population, a precautionary decline rate of 30-49 % over 12 years is assumed.  

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
No. of subpopulations:2-100Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Behaviour This species is migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It begins to breed in June, nesting sometimes in single pairs in very low densities (roughly one pair per 100 acres was recorded on the Kashunuk River in the 1960s) (Johnsgard 1978), but occasionally in small colonies of up to 60+ nests (Kear 2005). Around the time of hatching, males gather in large flocks off the coast near the breeding ground (Johnsgard 1978). Shortly after hatching the female moves her brood to the coast where they form 'herds' (Johnsgard 1978). The species migrates up to 3000km to its moulting sites (Johnsgard 1978, Kear 2005), where it becomes flightless for a period, before some continue migration to more distant wintering sites (Petersen et al. 2006). The timing of the moult migration appears to be highly variable, occurring sometimes as early as August, but in some years not until November, in which case the moult occurs prior to arrival (Johnsgard 1978). On the moulting grounds it forms flocks that may exceed 50,000 birds (Kear 2005, Laubhan and Metzner 1999). Congregations of a similar size also occur also in the spring when pair formation occurs prior to departure for the breeding grounds (Kear 2005). Spring migration commences in March in east Asia (Kear 2005), and elsewhere it begins in April, usually peaking in May (Kear 2005). Arrivals on the breeding grounds begin in early June (Kear 2005). Some small flocks remain throughout the summer in the wintering quarters at Varangerfjiord (Kear 2005). Habitat Breeding This species regularly breeds several kilometres inland (Kear 2005). It inhabits pools of various shapes and sizes in areas that characterise flat coastal belt within open tundra (Kear 2005). In the Lena Delta and Barrow areas it favours moss-lichen polygonal tundra (Kear 2005). It forages in areas of fresh, saline or brackish water, and tidal flats (Johnsgard 1978). Following hatching all birds move to coastal habitats (Johnsgard 1978). Non-breeding It winters mostly at sea, along low-lying rocky coasts, frequenting bays and river mouths (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It forages in water that is less than 10m deep (Madge and Burn 1988), and particularly favours areas where freshwater streams enter the sea (Madge and Burn 1988). Diet It feeds chiefly on molluscs, crustaceans and other marine invertebrates (del Hoyo et al. 1992). During the breeding season, some freshwater prey is taken including chironomid and caddisfly larvae (Johnsgard 1978). During moult, bivalve molluscs are the primary food source (Petersen 1981). Breeding site Nests are built on small hummocks or in depressions between hummocks, usually within a few metres of a tundra pond, and are often well-concealed by grass (Johnsgard 1978). The nests are deep and lined with lichens, grass and down (Kear 2005).

Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater; Marine
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):4
Movement patterns:Full Migrant
Congregatory:Congregatory (and dispersive)

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Subsistence hunting has been ongoing in Alaska since the late 19th century, and may have affected breeding populations here. Over-hunting in Siberia and in other breeding areas may be impacting the population. Studies at Barrow indicate that the species is subject to lead poisoning from the historical (and probably ongoing, but illegal since a nationwide ban in 1991 [Morse 2009]) use of lead shot. Disease and water pollution may impact eiders in their wintering area in south-west Alaska. Eiders breeding in Russia are subject to human subsistence harvest and exposure to lead shot. Males are subject to particular hunting pressure as they arrive on moulting grounds before females (Morse 2009). Declines of wintering birds on Bering Island, Russia appear to be greater on the west coast near the only village on the island; new protective zones are being proposed there (Y. Artukhin per K. Laing in litt. 2007). Bycatch in gillnet fisheries has been recorded in Lithuanian waters (Dagys and Žydelis, 2002), and though redistribution is likely to have reduced bycatch there, the foraging ecology of the species puts it at risk from gillnet bycatch where it overlaps with fisheries deploying this gear (i.e. Estonia) (Skov et al, 2011; Žydelis et al., 2013). Nest predation by mammalian and avian predators (e.g. Arctic Fox Alopex lagopus, Snowy Owl Nyctea scandiaca and Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus) appears to be a threat on Alaskan breeding grounds; no nesting was observed on breeding grounds near Barrow between 2001 and 2004, but nesting has since occurred with some success following the inception of fox control in 2005 (Safine 2011). Increasing human habitation of Arctic regions has increased the range and numbers of Ravens Corvux corax and some large gulls, leading to a greater risk of predation (Kear 2005). Recent dramatic changes in Arctic sea ice extent and thickness north of Alaska and Russia may affect eiders in unknown ways. In addition, climate change is causing the loss of Arctic tundra ponds (Andresen and Lougheed 2015), which could be contributing to declines in this species. Habitat loss also occurs through prospecting for, and the exploitation of, natural resources such as oil and gas (Kear 2005). The increasing traffic of tankers carrying oil from Arctic areas imposes the risk of contamination following spills (Kear 2005). It is not currently clear which of these many factors is driving the overall decline (K. Laing in litt. 2004, Žydelis et al. 2006). There are concerns in Alaska that a road-building project approved by the United States Congress in 2009 may impact the species (Morse 2009).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix I and II. EU Birds Directive Annex I. Bern Convention Appendix II. A European action plan was published in 2000, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service successfully proposed the critical habitat designation of 4,528 km2 of coastal habitat for the conservation of this species (Anon. 2001). It is a protected species in both Russia and the U.S.A.. Work has begun in Russia to conduct waterfowl population and subsistence harvest surveys (K. Laing in litt. 2004). A captive breeding and research programme (including 50 years of banding data) is underway in Alaska (Alaska SeaLife Center 2004). New protective zones are being proposed around wintering sites on Bearing Island (Y. Artukhin per K. Laing in litt. 2007), including additional protected zones of the Komandorskiy Reserve (Belobrov and Artukhin 2008).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey breeding and wintering grounds (particularly surrounding the Kola Peninsula, Russia) to determine population size and trends. Determine causes of current declines. Work to mitigate threats such as lead poisoning. Ensure subsistence harvest is sustainable. Support and extend the captive breeding programme to support future reintroductions and supplementation.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2016. Polysticta stelleri. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22680415A90292658. . Downloaded on 16 August 2018.
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