Friday, April 17, 2015

April 17, 2015 - Eider Ducks

The eider duck is a cold-loving bird that is common to Maine.  This is a male of the species, and its coloring is unmistakable and beautiful.  I like eiders because they seem to be more approachable than many other ducks and will often stop and pose for a photo.  They’re basically hams, but hey, “if you got it, flaunt it!”  And eiders definitely have it.

The female eiders are a brownish color but have the same shaped head and bill.  They are the source of the world famous eiderdown quilts and pillows.  The incredibly soft and warm down feathers from the female breast are used in these quilts and pillows.  Down feathers are the soft tiny feathers underneath the larger and coarse outer feathers.  Females pluck them out of their breasts and line their nests with them to keep the eggs warm.  These feathers are still gathered from the nests today in Scandinavia, Iceland, and Siberia in sustainable cycles in which the birds are not harmed.  An eiderdown quilt or pillow costs a fortune, though, and most feathered pillows and quilts you find on the market these days come from domestic geese.

The unmistakable eider drake.

Soon the baby ducks will be born.  I call them “corks” because that’s what they look like bobbing up and down in the water.  They are incredibly tiny and I am always afraid that the current will just tear them away and drown them.  Somehow, their moms keep them in check, though.  Very often, I’ll see a large group of female eiders surrounding a bunch of tiny corks.  They work together in groups to keep the survival rate up, and that says something about their intelligence and cooperative nature.

Eider ducks love the northern areas of the world, and you will not find them in the south.  The majority of their breeding takes place in the arctic, but they do breed in Maine, sticking to the cold Atlantic coastal areas.  Perhaps that’s why their feathers are so soft and warm.  They’ve had to adapt to the severe cold.  If you’re lucky enough to get an eiderdown quilt, treasure it and treat it as the heirloom it will certainly become.

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