NEWBURYPORT — With its distinctive multi-colored, Picasso-like face and striking black and white plumage, the king eider duck is considered one of the most spectacular waterfowl by bird enthusiasts.
And in recent days, the male duck has created a stir amongst Greater Newburyport birdwatchers after multiple sightings within Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island began being reported last week.
What makes the king eider sightings so exciting to many — in addition to its distinctive markings — is that it’s typically not seen around this area.
According to Bill Gette, director of Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Wildlife Sanctuary in Newburyport, the duck prefers the rockier coastlines of Cape Ann to the sandy Plum Island area. Typically, the king eider nests in the Arctic. But in winter, the bird migrates south, primarily to the Canadian province Newfoundland.
“But they do come down along the coasts. What makes this bird so special is we typically don’t see it off Plum Island,” Gette said.
“The other thing is it’s downright beautiful, it’s one of the most beautiful ducks. That is what really makes people so excited to see it. We call it an ‘ooooh, ahhhh’ bird, because they are really striking to folks.”
Gette gushed about the bird’s good looks yesterday, remarking that its silver-blushing plumage along with its eye-popping head markings made the king eider far more colorful and breathtaking than the common eider.
Last Wednesday morning, Gette led a bird-watching trip down to Gloucester where a king eider has been camping out off Atlantic Road. Many birders will make a detour to the coastline along Cape Ann if they want to see a king eider, knowing Gloucester is typically the place to find them.
“But this is the first time I’ve ever seen one in the Merrimack River itself,” Gette said.
Word of the king eider sightings around Newburyport has created a buzz of excitement among regulars at Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift on upper State Street.
Owner Steve Grinley, who writes a regular bird-watching column for The Daily News, says his store has received many calls from enthusiasts wondering where they might be able to grab a glimpse of the fowl.
“It’s a little more unusual to see them them that close to Newburyport,” Grinley said.
Those interested in spotting a king eider have time to plan a trip, according to Gette and Grinley. Gette said the birds will be around the region until mid-March before heading back north to their nesting grounds.