It’s the bird behind countless up-market continental quilts and cosy jackets, with feathers fit to give a glow to eggs and humans alike. There’s no harvest of eiderdown in Britain nowadays. But the sight of a group of eiders swimming nearby can warm a wildlife watcher’s heart on many Scottish shores.
What to look for
The eider is a chunky duck, with a large head and a bill that makes a fairly straight line from forehead to bill tip. Males are predominantly white, with bold black markings and some green at the back of the head. Females are mottled brown, to give camouflage while incubating.
It’s not unusual for eiders to nest in gull colonies. This may give them some protection while nesting, but presents a challenge when chicks need to move from nest to sea, running the gauntlet of the predatory gulls. Some females lay eggs in the nests of others, leaving them to do the chick rearing. Other females without chicks may help to look after crèches of youngsters inshore.
When and where to see
Eiders are widespread along almost the entire west coast and the Hebrides, from Kintyre northwards, in Orkney, Shetland and northern Caithness and along the east coast from Fraserburgh to the Firth of Forth.
For more information see the RSPB's eider duck page.