Quirky and incredibly charming, the Eider Duck is a breed that is hard not to love.
These sea ducks are found commonly in the Northern Hemisphere and are beloved for their soft down feathers and their ability to dive!
If you’re a fan of all things duck, you’ll love learning about this fascinating and unique bird.
While these aren’t birds that are typically raised domestically on farms and homesteads, they still have a lot to offer.
Let’s dive in (yes, pun intended)!
What is the Eider Duck Breed?
Eider ducks are part of the Somateria genus, which are large sea ducks found in cooler latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.
These ducks can be found in regions such as Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia, and parts of North America.
Again, they are wild ducks and not one that has been domesticated.
One of the most interesting things about Eider ducks is the use of their down feathers.
These feathers are highly valued for their insulating properties and are used to fill pillows and quilts.
In fact, there is a type of quilt called an eiderdown which was traditionally filled with down from Eider ducks.
These down feathers are collected from the nests of female Eider ducks, and it’s quite a delicate process to ensure that the ducks are not disturbed or harmed.
Eider ducks are one of the largest duck breeds around.
They have a large, bulky body and a distinctive wedge-shaped head.
The males are easily identifiable with their black and white plumage, while the females have a more uniform brown coloration.
Despite their large size, Eider ducks are excellent swimmers and divers.
They have specialized salt glands that allow them to drink saltwater and excrete excess salt, making them well-adapted to their marine habitat.
Eider ducks feed on various marine invertebrates, such as mussels, clams, and crabs.
They have a fascinating cultural significance in some parts of the world.
In Iceland, for example, they are protected and highly valued for their down feathers.
History of the Eider Duck Breed
The Eider duck was first introduced by English zoologist William Leach in 1819.
The king eider, which is one of the four species of Eider ducks, was discovered during one of Leach’s expeditions to the Arctic.
He was fascinated by these birds’ physical characteristics, such as their colorful plumage and their ability to dive up to 60 meters in search of food.
But where did the name ‘Eider’ come from?
Eider is derived from the Greek words soma, meaning ‘body,’ and erion, meaning ‘wool.’
This name perfectly describes the Eider duck’s most sought-after attribute—their soft down feathers.
If you plan to visit Iceland, you might get lucky and witness an Eider duck feather harvest.
The harvesting of Eider down is done sustainably and is a vital part of the local economy.
The process of harvesting down can take weeks, as the farmers must collect the feathers by hand to ensure the birds are not harmed.
They then sort the feathers by quality and wash them before sending them to factories to be made into textiles.
Where Do Eider Ducks Live?
The Eider duck species are known to inhabit the Arctic and subarctic regions around the globe.
Whether it’s in Alaska or Siberia, Eider ducks can be seen around the coastline and freshwater lakes and rivers of the tundra.
During the breeding season, they reside in areas not too far from the sea.
The Common and King Eider, two of the largest Eider duck species, have the most extensive breeding ranges in northern Europe and the Arctic Atlantic.
Winter is a different story. Eider ducks usually stay in northern waters like bays, away from any land sources.
They winter in various regions like Greenland, North America, Alaska, and Iceland.
They stay in areas with suitable food sources to keep them sustained throughout the long, icy season.
Eider ducks tend to leave their winter habitats and head back to their breeding grounds during the ice break-up period.
Eider ducks are not only beautiful but are also great fliers.
During migration periods, they fly lower over the water, side by side, all in synchrony.
Their flocks are such a sight to behold that they often make for a tourist attraction in the regions they pass over.
Their flight patterns also serve as an excellent opportunity for bird watchers and enthusiasts to observe and document their behaviors.
RELATED READ: 10 Duck Breeds That Can’t Fly
What Does the Eider Duck Look Like?
Let’s start by discussing the differences between male and female Eider ducks.
These birds exhibit strong sexual dimorphism, which means that the males and females differ in appearance.
Male Eider ducks mainly have black-and-white patterns around their bodies and soft-colored patches in some areas.
But the most distinctive feature of male Eider ducks is their complex and colorful head patterns, which make them stand out from other duck species.
On the other hand, female Eider ducks are usually dull in color, ranging from brown to gray, and lack the complex head patterns of the males.
Despite their differing appearances, male and female Eider ducks look similar across all species.
Steller’s Eider is one species of Eider duck that differs from the typical male Eider duck appearance, as it has a simple head pattern but a tuft of green-black feathers on the nape of its neck.
This unique characteristic of Steller’s eider makes it easy to identify.
What Do Eider Ducks Eat?
Eider ducks primarily consume small fish, marine invertebrates, mollusks, crustaceans, and algae.
One of their favorite treats is mussels, which they pry open with their strong bills.
They are also fond of diving for crabs and other bottom-dwelling creatures.
These ducks can dive up to sixty meters in depth, where they use their wings to submerge and search for prey.
Interestingly, eider ducks do not just rely on marine life for their nutritional needs.
They also feed on leaves, berries, seeds, and green parts of plants found on the tundra.
During the breeding season, female eider ducks consume more plant material to provide the necessary nutrients for their eggs.
Eider ducks are known for their head-dipping feeding technique.
They plunge their heads into the water and feed on the aquatic ecosystem’s surface-dwelling creatures.
This feeding style is also seen in other species of ducks, like the Mallard.
Of course, ducks are omnivores—they can adapt to various food sources as per their availability.
The eider ducks’ diet may also vary based on their habitat and season.
During winter, when their marine food sources are scarce, they rely more on vegetation found on land.
Behavioral Characteristics of Eider Ducks
Eider ducks are sociable birds that live in large flocks, except for Spectacled eiders that prefer smaller groups.
They are friendly and approachable, making them an exciting bird to observe in their natural habitats.
These birds form breeding pairs in late winter, and soon after, nesting begins.
They usually nest in solitary areas, but the common eider will breed in large colonies along the seacoast.
Breeding usually takes place from April through June in most cases.
One of the most interesting displays during eider duck breeding season is their mating displays.
During this time, male ducks rear up out of the water, flap their wings, and stretch in elaborate ways, hoping to attract a female mate.
It’s also during this time that the female ducks build the nest that they’ll lay their eggs in.
They lay up to six eggs, and occasionally, Steller’s eider will lay up to eight eggs.
Females incubate the eggs for up to 28 days, and after the chicks hatch, they are precocious and can feed and walk on their own within 24 days.
Eider ducklings are precocious, and they leave the nest around 50 to 60 days after hatching.
They are sexually mature at two years old, and they live in flocks throughout the year, except during the breeding season.
These birds are large and have thick feathers that protect them from the cold water.
They also have a unique behavior where they pull their down feathers to line their nests, making them one of the few birds known to use this method.
They have also been known to form large rafts, especially during the winter months, to keep warm and conserve energy.
These rafts are often formed by thousands of ducks huddling together and floating on the water.
4 Subspecies of Eiders
These stunning ducks are not only beautiful to look at, but they also play an important role in the ecosystem.
There are four subspecies of eider ducks—though technically, there are only three within the Somateria genus.
These three are closely related. Steller’s eider is technically in a different genus but holds many traits in common with the other types of eider ducks.
These ducks are the largest in the northern hemisphere and can be found along the coasts of the Arctic, North Atlantic, and North Pacific oceans.
They have black crowns and white faces on their males, which is a unique and striking feature.
Common eiders feed almost entirely on animal material, making it difficult to track them down.
They are an important species in the ecosystem, as they help regulate the population of their prey and provide food for larger predators.
The second eider subspecies is the King Eider, which can be found in the northernmost parts of North America and Eurasia.
The males of this species have a yellow-orange frontal shield and a red bill, making them quite distinctive.
King eiders exhibit social behaviors, such as group foraging and flocking, which helps protect them from predators.
They also have an elaborate courtship display, which involves head bobbing and vocalizations.
The third eider subspecies is the Spectacled Eider, which can be found in the Arctic regions of Alaska, Siberia, and Russia.
The name “spectacled” comes from the unique white feathers around their eyes, making it look like they are wearing glasses.
They also have a long sloping forehead and a blue-green bill.
Spectacled eiders feed on a variety of animal and plant material, making them less specialized in their diet than other eider subspecies.
The fourth eider subspecies is Steller’s Eider, which, again, is a bit different from the others as it is in a different genus.
This species can be found in the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia.
The males have a green-black feather tuft and a black collar on their necks.
Steller’s eiders have a specialized diet, feeding on small invertebrates found in shallow coastal areas.
They are considered to be a threatened species, as their population has declined due to habitat loss and hunting.
Do Eider Ducks Have Predators?
Eider ducks may look adorable, but they are not impervious to the dangers of the wild.
Perhaps the most common predators of Eider ducks are gulls, who often lurk around their nesting grounds.
These pesky birds have been known to snack on duck eggs, chicks, and even adults.
Foxes are also notorious predators of Eider ducks, as they can sneak up on them when they are foraging or resting on land.
But it’s not just natural predators that Eider ducks need to worry about.
Human activities like hunting and habitat destruction have also taken their toll on these birds.
Another significant threat is lead poisoning, which can occur when ducks accidentally ingest lead shot while foraging.
Oil pollution is another concern, as ducks who come into contact with oil can suffer serious health effects.
Are Eider Ducks Rare?
Despite their majestic beauty and cute demeanor, Eider ducks are not that rare, although some species are more vulnerable than others.
Currently, the Steller’s Eider is listed as vulnerable due to its small population size.
However, the three other species are evaluated as “least concern.”
This means that they are not currently at risk for extinction, but their population status should still be monitored closely.
Global warming is also a significant threat to Eider ducks’ survival.
The Arctic region, where these ducks breed and nest, is rapidly warming, causing changes in weather patterns, displacement of prey, and loss of habitat.
This can have a severe impact on the ducks’ population and ability to thrive in their natural environment.
Eider Duck Breed: Before You Go…
From their unique physical attributes to their love of the ocean and friendly personalities, these ducks are a breed apart.
Their relationship with humans and their remarkable down feathers only add to their appeal.
So the next time you’re near the coast, keep an eye out for these majestic birds—you never know when you might see one!
Interested in more unique duck breeds? You might want to check out the articles below!