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Eider Duck { Birds of Europe }

Updated on October 2, 2015

Eider Duck,

Taken at the London Wetland Centre. Barnes,UK.
Taken at the London Wetland Centre. Barnes,UK. | Source


The Eider duck Somateria mollissima belongs to the Anserifromes order of birds and the family Anatidae within that order.The genus name of Somateria derives from the Greek soma-belly+erion =wool. The specific name of mollissima derives from Latin and indicates very soft. from mollis -soft.

In the UK the bird is placed on the Amber list of conservation concern { declines of between 25-50% over the last forty years or so} due to non-breeding declines. There is an estimated 26,000 pairs in summer and up to 60,000 individuals in the winter. In Ireland they are also Amber listed due to the majority of Eiders winter in less than ten sites. In the UK it is classed as resident breeder and winter visitor.

In Europe it is regarded as being secure with and estimated total population of between 820,000 -one point two million breeding pairs.The populations vary from country to country there follows a few selected examples. In Denmark the population is estimated at around 25,000 Breeding Pairs {BP}. Greenland ,15,000-25,000 BP. Finland 140,000-160,000 BP. Iceland 200,000-350,000 BP. Norway 100,000-150,000 BP. Russia 15,000-25,000 BP.Sweden 270,000-360,000 BP. Ukraine 700-1,100 BP.

The birds breed in northern Europe,Siberia and northern North America. The habitat includes Tundra ponds and lakes and sea coasts.

The Gaelic name for the bird is Colc,the Irish name is Eader and the Welsh name is Hwyaden fwythblu.

King Eider. Somateria spectabilllis


Spectacled Eider Somateria fisheri

Taken at Seward,Alaska.
Taken at Seward,Alaska. | Source

What are Eider ducks ?

Eider ducks belong to the genus Somateria and there are three extant species. Apart from the subject under review there is the King Eider Somateria spectabilis,a large sea duck that breeds in the northern hemisphere along the Arctic coasts of north east Europe,North America and Asia. They Migrate to the Arctic Tundra to breed in June and July. This species is smaller than the Common Eider.

The other species is the Spectacled Eider S.fischeri,a large sea duck that breeds of the coasts of Alaska and northern Siberia. The species is also smaller than the Common Eider.

Steller's Eider, Polysticta stellari, is a smallish sea duck that breeds along the Arctic coasts of Siberia and Alaska. The species is the smallest Eider. However this species belongs to a different genus to the other three Eiders. here we review the Common Eider Somateria mollissima and as always we commence with a description of the species under review.

Steller's Eider belongs to the genus Polysticta stellaria

Crossley's ID Guide to  Britain and Ireland . Richard Crossley.
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland . Richard Crossley. | Source

Male in eclipse plumage

Uploaded to Commons via Mousse {talk}
Uploaded to Commons via Mousse {talk} | Source

Description of the Common Eider.

Description at a glance.- Large and heavy built,with a short neck ,large head,long wedge shaped bill. Males largely white with black back,sides and stern. The head white with black crown and pale green on sides of the nape. The adult male is unmistakeable. females and juveniles resemble the females of other duck species.

In More detail.- The Eider is not only heavy but clumsy looking,with a large head. On the wing however, it progresses rapidly,it is also a good diver and can remain beneath the surface for long periods when feeding. From the shortness of its Tarsi it is a poor walker on land.

The adult male has the frontal angles of the bill very narrow,and, though fleshy,little elevated. The head black above,with a medial white band. The hind part of the cheeks and nape a pale green. The throat,hind neck,back scapulars,smaller wing coverts and inner secondary quills white. The breast,sides and abdomen and the rump black. The fore-neck cream coloured. The tail is composed of sixteen feathers. The males are approximately three to four years old before they attain full adult plumage.

The females are nearly equal in bulk to the male. The plumage is plain and inconspicuous,of various shades of brown,and showing much variation from brownish black to yellowish red. The eclipse colour of the male make them resemble more like the females see image of eclipse male. {right}

Male Eider ducks courtesy of Katy Boundary . Standard You Tube License

General and historical information

The collection of down {small feathers from the breast used to line the nest} was recorded as far back as the fourteenth century. It carried on in such a manner that the birds nearly became extinct by the nineteenth century. During that time the 'celebrated Eiderdown was regarded as the warmest,lightest,and most elastic material in the world.

Records reveal that two pounds in weight of Eiderdown was sufficient to make a quilt for a double bed. The nests it would appear were stripped of their lining three times, but the first gathering was regarded as being superior to the second and the third ,and the yield of clean down during the season was a quarter of a pound per nest. The third gathering was left until the last clutch of eggs laid by the duck was 'hatched off'.

The market value was from fifteen to even thirty kroner a pound. Twenty shillings a pound was paid at Bergen in 1896.

Mr Peary' My Arctic Journal',states that on July the second,1891, at the Duck Islands , just before entering Melville Bay,gathered forty three pounds of Eiderdown in five hours. The boat crew took 960 eggs,only 150 of which were found 'good'. The down was found of the greatest value and use in the extreme cold of the long and dreary Arctic nights."

The eggs were considered a great delicacy, but they had a strong taste and were not considered equal, yet proved to be a desirable addition to the food supply of Arctic explorers.

The Eider is a true sea duck and is the UK's heaviest. It is rarely found away from coasts. During the breeding season they can be found from Northumberland coasts {North east England} ,northwards to Scotland where they can also be found on the west coast of that country. During the winter they may be seen further south on the Yorkshire coasts and some may be encountered off the Welsh coast. In Ireland Belfast Lough is a Northern Ireland stronghold.

Indeed in times gone by the name of St Cuthbert'sduck was given to the bird,owing to the fact of its breeding in St,Cuthbert's Island {Northumberland} in considerable numbers. Today because of the same reason it is often referred to as 'Cuddy' duck. One writer records that the Eider duck is easily domesticated, but the young are troublesome to rear and are subject to frequent mishaps in the Poultry yard,being ' clumpsy and uncertain walkers'.

The food of the Eider consists of mussels,all sorts of shellfish, particularly Periwinkles and Cockles,Crabs and Starfish. The Crabs are swallowed are often of considerable size. The cry of the female is a harsh croak,while the male tend to be silent.

As regards the duck as an item of food, it seems that the people of Greenland esteemed them for the table.However, Morris, 1880, stated " What is one man's food is another man's poison, and I would be inclined to suppose that there are many other dishes which would be preferred by an English man's appetite"

Male in flight

Originally appeared on Flickr {Rainbirder} and was uploaded to Commons by Dudubot {talk}
Originally appeared on Flickr {Rainbirder} and was uploaded to Commons by Dudubot {talk} | Source

Female Eider.

Uploaded to commons via Ras67 {talk}
Uploaded to commons via Ras67 {talk} | Source

Breeding nest and Eggs.

Selby writes " About April they are seen assembling in small groups along the shores of the mainland,from whence they cross over to the islands in May,soon after which the females begin to prepare their nests and usually commence laying about the 20th of that month"

The nest is made of dry grasses and dry plants,mixed with seaweed. The nests are situated in nooks and corners of rocks, in some slight hollow or among sea-loving plants. The eggs are deposited by the female and number from four to six. After the full compliment has been laid she covers them with the down from her breast. The down ,when incubation commences,comes away easily from her breast. The male takes no part in the process of incubation.

The incubation period lasts for 25-28 days and when the young are hatched the mother leads them at once to the water. The downy ducklings are kept within her sight. The males separate from both the female and young after the breeding season.

Eider nest and eggs. The eggs are surrounded by beautiful soft down.

The nest is situated  in Tundra in the Canadian Arctic.
The nest is situated in Tundra in the Canadian Arctic. | Source

Young ducks

The young have to be wary of many predators.The most voracious of which are large gulls that will take both eggs and young when they chance to encounter them.

Bishop Stanley made the following observations. " A few days after the young ducks leave the eggs they proceed to the water under the guidance of their dam,who swims with them on her back to some distance,when,making a sudden dive,she abandons them to themselves,and re-appearing,tempts them to come towards her,so that on the first trial they commonly become expert swimmers"

Morris observes that in the first year the back is white ,and the parts that are usually so,except part of the crown and sides of the head,and the lower part of the neck and breast are black.In the second year the crown of the head is black and the neck and breast spotted with black and white. In the third year they have a piebald appearance the consequence of the assumption of white on the back and scapulars. By the fourth year the adult garb is acquired.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, your very welcome hope you meet your Eider duck soon. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I have yet to meet an eider, but would so like to do so. Ducks are some of my favorites, and I do enjoy all water birds or waders in general. Thanks for the nice piece on these ducks, as I learned a lot from this.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello my friend your kind words and votes are really appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 

      3 years ago from Jaipur

      Hi dave,

      Again a readable adorable article! I love birds and nature. Thanks for nice info. First to Rated it up and useful.


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