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common eider

Common Eider

Famous for its soft and warm feathers that we know and love as eiderdown

What you need to know about the Common Eider

Our Expert Says… "Female eiders are remarkably tolerant of people, and it's this characteristic that makes the collecting of the valuable down easy. The young chicks are precocious and can swim from a young age - although their thick down is very buoyant, and it can be amusing to watch them bob about like corks when they try to dive like their parents!"

The common eider is a species of duck that breeds in the arctic and overwinters further south in more temperate areas. It’s also sometimes known as Cuddy’s duck or St Cuthbert’s duck. A famous colony of eiders on the Farne Islands in the UK was the subject of the first bird-protection law in 676, when St Cuthbert decreed that they were not to be killed (“Cuddy” is a short name for Cuthbert)

Common eider ducks are famous for being the source of eiderdown - the soft under feathers from the female’s breast that are used to line and insulate their nests. Although reduced in popularity thanks to the introduction of synthetic alternatives, eiderdown is still harvested. Because it’s taken from nests after the ducklings have left it doesn’t harm the birds in any way.

One of the largest northern hemisphere duck species, the common eider can grow up to 70cm (28”) long with a wingspan of over 50cm (20”) and weigh more than 3kg (6.5lb). They have a bulky body shape and a large bill with an obvious wedge shape. Despite their large size they are one of the fastest flying duck species and have been clocked at 70mph.

In appearance, males are easy to spot with their striking black and white plumage with a green patch on the nape of the neck. Females are a much more drab brown color, but still usually easily identifiable due to their large size.

Eiders feed on crustaceans and mollusks, with mussels being a favorite food. They actually swallow the shellfish whole and the shells are crushed in their muscular gizzards. They breed in colonies anywhere between 100 and 15,000 strong and have a high degree of social co-operation, crèching ducklings together to share parenting and even laying in related birds’ nests.

There are thought to be up to 2 million eider ducks in the North American and European populations, and although not immediately threatened, there were large die-offs in the Canadian populations in the 1990s due to sudden changes in the pattern of ice floes.

Common Eider: Pictures & Videos

Common Eider

Spots where the Common Eider can be observed

Our trips to spot the Common Eider

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