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The 21 species of sea ducks are one of the larger subgroups (Tribe Mergini) of the waterfowl family Anatidae, and the 16 species (one historically extinct) that are native to North America represent the largest number to be found on any continent, and also the largest number of endemic sea duck species native to any continent.

Although generally not important as game birds, the sea ducks include some economically important birds such as the eiders, the basis for the Arctic eiderdown industry and a historically important food source for some Native American cultures. They also include what is probably the most northerly breeding species of all waterfowl and an icon of Arctic bird life, the long-tailed duck. The sea ducks also include species having some of the most complex and diverse pair-forming postural and acoustic displays of all waterfowl (goldeneyes and bufflehead), and some of the deepest diving species of all waterfowl (scoters and long-tailed duck). Sea ducks are highly prone to population disasters caused by oil spills and other water contaminants and, like other seabirds, are among the first bird groups that are being affected by current global warming trends in polar regions.

This book is an effort to summarize succinctly our current knowledge of sea duck biology and to provide a convenient survey of the vast technical literature on the group, with over 900 literature references. It also includes 90,000 words of text (more than 40 percent of which is new), 15 updated range maps, 11 black & white and 20 color photographs, over 30 ink drawings, and nearly 150 sketches.

Lastly, the North American sea ducks include the now extinct Labrador duck, the only northern hemisphere waterfowl species to have gone extinct in modern times. I have gratefully reprinted a Labrador duck watercolor by Sir Peter Scott. Considering recent population crashes in other sea ducks, such as the Steller’s eider and spectacled eider, it should also offer a sobering reminder of the fragility of our natural world and its inhabitants, including us.

doi: 10.13014/K22Z13FS


ISBN 978-1-60962-106-3

Publication Date



Zea Books


Lincoln, Nebraska


duck, eider, scoter, oldsquaw, merganser, goldeneye, bufflehead, harlequin, ornithology


Animal Sciences | Biodiversity | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Life Sciences | Ornithology | Poultry or Avian Science | Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology


Text, photos, and illustrations copyright © 2016 Paul A. Johnsgard

The North American Sea Ducks: Their Biology and Behavior