National Geographic : 1915 Aug
STELLER'S EIDER (Polysticta stelleri). Range: Breeds from Point Barrow, Alaska, to northern coast of Siberia and south to Aleutian Islands: winters on Aleutian Islands and Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, and south on the Asiatic coast to Kuril Islands. Steller's hardy and beautiful duck is American by virtue of our possession of Alaska, for even in winter it does not venture south as far as either the Atlantic or the Pacific Coast States. According to Nelson the coast and islands of Bering Sea constitute the eastern range of this eider, and it breeds by tens of thousands on the North Siberian coast. Nelson found these ducks rather numerous in the quiet waters of bays and fjords of the Aleutian Islands the last of May, but they were very shy and he failed to secure a single individual. They winter in such of the Alaskan bays as are free from ice, and at this season the natives who depend upon them for winter food kill great numbers. This eider is a true sea duck and Turner notes that it keeps well off shore except in boisterous weather. Needless to say then that its food consists of animal life gleaned from the sea and that the bird is a skillful diver, reaching great depths and staying under a long time, as do eiders generally. SPECTACLED EIDER (Arctonetta fischeri) (See page 127). LABRADOR DUCK (Camptorhynchus labradorius). Range: Formerly, northern Atlantic coasts; supposed to have bred in Labrador; wintered from Nova Scotia south to New Jersey. The Labrador duck's history is shrouded in mystery. It is now known to be extinct but of the causes of its disappearance we know little or nothing. Occupying as it did such a restricted range, the bird was probably never abundant, at least in historic times. Many years ago George N. Lawrence told me that in his recollec tion, somewhere probably about 1850, it was by no means uncommon in Fulton Market, and no one at that time tt e appears to have suspected that the bird was in any particular danger of extinction. Apparently its habits were those of a sea duck, and as it could have possessed no great value for the table there would seem to have been no particular incentive for its pursuit. We know so little about the bird that speculation as to the cause of its extinction is useless but, as suggested by Forbush, the slaughter of waterfowl on the Labrador coast in the eighteenth century may have had much to do with it. The lesson to be drawn from its fate is that if a game bird like the Labrador duck can become extinct in historic times from no assignable cause we should be doubly careful not to reduce the numbers of any of our valuable game birds to a point which threatens their future, since when reduced beyond certain limits, the precise limits being as yet unknown, recovery seems to be impossible, as witness the history of the passenger pigeon and the Eskimo curlew. So far as known, the last Labrador duck seen alive by man was taken at Grand Menan on the Maine coast in 1871. Fortunately, some forty-odd specimens are known to be in museums and in private collections. PACIFICEIDER (Somateria dresseri). Range: Breeds trom southern Ungava and Newfoundland tosoutheastern Maine, and on southern half ofHudson Bay; winters from Newfoundland and Gulf of St. Lawrence south on Atlantic coast regularly toMassachusetts. The American eider is theeider ofnortheastern North America, and differs only slightly from its European representative, the "northern eider," from which is derived much of the eiderdown ofcommerce. The female anticipates theneeds of her ducklings for a warmand soft bed bylining the nest with down plucked from her own breast. But this downy lining iscoveted by the Icelanders, who re gard the summer's crop of down asasubstantial addition to their annual harvest and who accordingly appropriate it.The male, equally solicitous for thewelfare of the nestlings, in turn denudes hisbreast ofitsdown and replaces thelining. This also is taken, after which thepair areallowed torear their brood inpeace. Needless to say, the eider is carefully protected inIceland, and hence thecrop of down is a perennial one. This duck was formerly 'abundant and indeed nested along the coast from Mainenorthward. Eiders aremuch less numerous than formerly within our territory,for thesufficient reason that they have been ruth lessly killed. No doubt theywould soon beextinct were itnot forthefact that they breed in the north far from harm. The eider isatrue marine duck and well deserves the title of "sea duck" bestowed upon itbygunners. Sohardy arethese birds that they choose to keeptothe open seaduring theseverest storms, and rely for their preservation on their unsurpassed powers of swimming and diving. Eiders live largely upon mussels, which they secure infifty feet ormore ofwater. Dependent in no wise upon man and doing him no harm, they ask only forthe universal boon of life. KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis) (See page 127). WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Oidemia deglandi). Range: Breeds from the coast ofnortheastern Siberia, northern Alaska, north ern Mackenzie, and northernUngava south to central British Columbia, Alberta, northern North Dakota, andsouthern Quebec; winters onthe Asiatic coast to Bering Island, Japan a , and China, and inNorth America from Unalaska Island to San Quintin Bay, Lower California, theGreat Lakes, and the Atlantic coast from the Gulf of St. Lawrence south (rarely) toFlorida; non-breeding birds occur in summer as far south as RhodeIsland and Monterey, California. The general habits of thisscoter correspond closely with those ofitsrelatives. It winters in great numbers incompany with other coots onthe coasts oftheNew England and Middle States, and also along our west coast, especially inOregon and Washington. Scoters aredenizens oftheseaand arealmost asmuch athome there as the fish, crustaceans,and shell fish upon which they feed. Solarge are some of the shell fish that have been found intheir stomachs that itisdifficult to understand how the birds manage toswallow them, and equally difficult tocom prehend how they can digest the hard, thick, calcareous shell. This they do,how ever, with ease and celerity, and thedigestive feat isone anostrich might well be proud of. SURF SCOTER (Oidemia perspicillata) (See page 146). AMERICAN SCOTER (Oidemia americana) (See page 146).