Male and female Common Eiders. Photo © Butch Sullins
With winter approaching many birds that are summer residents of Peaks Island’s shores have left for warmer places, whereas some birds remain here year round. Others, our winter resident birds, are arriving from their northern breeding grounds to enjoy relatively ice free conditions, abundant food, and fewer avian predators (such as hawks), who themselves have gone south.
Female Common Eiders around Peaks Island (found mostly on the Backshore and South Shore) have decreased from over 400 in late summer to less than 100 in September and October. In November a small flock of ~ 40 female and 8 male common eiders were seen feeding at the breakers in front of “Bicycle House” #500 with a scattering of them around the NE corner of the Backshore and to Wharf Cove. Perhaps the female eiders that were here in the summer have re-located locally or have gone south to Cape Cod and beyond. Are those female eiders seen here part of the summer flock or those from northern shores who have migrated here – being only winter residents? Or both?
The males, who leave the females during the summer, are starting to return to Peaks Island, after a full molt of their plumage is complete. While away they are flightless and gather in ‘bachelor’ groups in locations that are relatively safe from predators - preferably in quiet places where there is an abundance of food. Some studies have found large groups of molting male eiders off the coast of Nova Scotia, southern shores of Gulf of St. Lawrence River estuary, and along the coast of Maine (Petit Manan Island archipelago and Metinic Island archipelago (1, 2). Where do the Peaks Island male eiders go? Wherever they go, they always return with their splendid geometric black and white plumage, emerald heads and orange beaks.
Three Common Loons (Great Northern Loons) and 4 Red-breasted Mergansers were observed at the NE corner of the Backshore and Wharf Cove.
Double-Crested Cormorants and Herring Gulls (American Herring Gulls) were seen, but in much fewer numbers than seen in the summer, or even less than observed in October. The cormorants typically fly further south along the coast in the winter. Many Herring Gulls will spend the winter here in Maine, but even more will also head to warmer climates, or better food resources?
Along the backshore near the eider flock several Black Guillemots were diving for prey, along with several Long-tailed Ducks (old name - oldsquaws), a grebe, and 4 White-winged Scoters were in close proximity to the above species. A flock of 15-20 scoters flew from Hussey Sound toward Green Island. (See Scoter Species Account #1)
Some species were difficult to identify with overcast grey skies and turbulent seas. For Example, a flock of 15-20 medium size birds were observed outside the eider flock. The flock stretched into a line; i.e., they were not clustered as most flocks. The birds showed white breasts and necks, and gray heads and backs – not too distinct. Perhaps they were Long-tailed Ducks, grebes (in flocks?), Red-breasted Mergansers, or Black Guillemots (too big?). I have seen Black Guillemots in small flocks of similar shape, but these birds seemed larger than the small guillemots. The Long-tailed Ducks, mergansers, and grebes are usually seen in smaller groups or as isolated individuals. Perhaps we can identify these birds in better weather conditions.
Near the eider flock several diving ducks were also seen. They had black heads, a white neck and chest, a light bill, and white wing patch (possibly goldeneyes?).
Milton, G.R., O’brien M., Boudreau, M. Moody, R. and Boyed, G.R. Using Helicopters to Capture Molting Eiders.
Savard, J-P L., Allenm B., McAuley, D., Milton, G.R., and Giliand, S. 2005. Abundance and distribution of the common eider in eastern North America during the molting season. 2nd North American Sea Duck Conference, Anapolis, MD. USGS Publication. Abstract. http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/5211322
Thank you for your interest in our Peaks Island birds, and if you have any additional bird sightings you would like to share or questions regarding Peak's bird life, you can send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Patty Wainright
Reviewers: Michelle Brown and Sam Wainright