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The Eider Duck
Take a look in Rothesay bay at anytime and you will see many ducks, but the ones I will write about today are the "Eider Ducks". these diving ducks are in great abundance all around the island and up to a hundred or more can huddle together in what are called "rafts".
The male is black and white with a pink flush on its chest and has crisp green markings on its head, wheras the female has a mixture of browns with a barred effect, necessary for when she is incubating her eggs as she sometimes can go quite far inland to nest and all the work is done by herself.
An amazing thing that I noticed many years ago when I had my Jack Russel Terrier "Zoe", she could walk past as many females on nests and never noticed them. They were well camouflaged but as I was above them I could spot them but zoe missed them. I would have thought that she would have picked up their scent? but no, even a nest right beside the path I was on was ignored. This is a dog who had a great nose and could follow a scent for kilometres yet could not find a duck within one metre of her. I can only assume that they do not give out any scent whilst incubating their eggs. If this is so it is an amazing feat. This was not a one off, this happened year after year.
You will have heard of, or even used "Eiderdown" quilts many years ago,and can still be bought today. The down is taken from the nests of these birds while they are sitting on them, The female plucks the lovely soft down from her chest to line her nest and the best quality is taken just before the eggs hatch. this down is still famous and no substitute has been found to equal it, so much that for many years it has been farmed using artificial nest sites. I have often thought about taking the down from nests that the ducklings have left and making my own quilt but never got around to doing so. I think it would still be fresh enough as the chicks head for water as soon as they hatch and dont go back to the nest again. Yet, I think it was wise to leave well alone as other birds could use it to line their nests.
Food for the eider consists of crabs, mussels etc, and can be seen being harrassed by gulls when they surface with food , sometimes being made to drop it and having to dive for more. “ ’Obviously, the best time for them to dive is at low tide when they can reach areas that they cant during high tide, but they can still go down a fair depth just the same.Courtship has already started for this season and on a quiet day you will hear the cooning and crooning of the males. My favourite place is at the south end of the island between Glen Callum Bay and Dunagoil on a warm summers day,"joke" when all the males are together trying to outdo each other vocally. It is a very relaxing time,with the added bonus of a flask of coffee and a sarnie. Many years ago I helped in the counting of these birds. This was done from a small yacht with a diesel engine Unfortunatly the weather took a turn for the worse and we got a bit of tossing around, but did not stop us doing a count“. ’The next time the weather was much calmer and counting was easy“.
’Identification is only hard with young males and adult males which are in moult, but their shape is a good guide, but looking at a duck that is far away and more under the water than above and bobbing up and down“,! ’Well you could take up Butterflies!
First published in the Buteman 08-03-2002