Eider Duck (somateria mollissima, Leach), one of the fuligulinoe or sea ducks, well known for the remarkable softness of its down and the beauty of its plumage, and common, like other arctic species, to both hemispheres. The bill is elevated at the base, compressed behind the nostrils, divided in front by an acute angle of feathers, flattened at the tip, which is armed with a strong, broad, and hooked nail; the lamellae are moderate and far apart; the wings are moderate, pointed, the first and second quills longest; the tail short and wedge-shaped; tarsi more than half as long as the middle toe; the toes long, united by a full web. The head is very large, the neck short, the body bulky and much depressed; the feet are short, and placed far behind. The plumage is short, dense, soft, and blended. The bill is pale grayish yellow, iris brown, feet dingy light green with dusky webs; upper part of head bluish black, with the central part white; occiput, upper part of hind neck, and sides of neck delicate pale green; sides of head, throat, and neck white; lower neck and upper breast cream-colored or buff"; rest of lower surface black, as are the tail coverts and middle of the rump; rest of upper parts white, the scapulars tinged with yellow, except the secondaries, which are brownish black, and the primaries, grayish brown; the length is 25 in., the extent of wings 42, the tail 4 1/4, bill 2 3/4; the weight is from 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 lbs., greatest in winter.
The female differs greatly from the male, being somewhat smaller, and having the general plumage brown barred with black, lighter on the head and neck; secondaries and their coverts with white tips; the young in the first winter resemble the female. The eider is rarely seen south of New York; east of Boston it is more and more abundant as the latitude in- I creases. Thousands of pairs breed and pass the summer in Labrador, where they are called sea ducks, a name also given to other species; they there begin to make their nests about the last of May, amid the grass and low bushes, and in sheltered places among the rocks; many nests are found near together, made of seaweed, moss, and twigs, each containing from five to seven eggs, about 3 in. long, of a pale olive green; the eggs are considered great delicacies by the fishermen. When the eggs are laid, the female plucks the down from her breast, and places it under and around them, and when incubation commences the male leaves her to take care of her eggs and herself; when she quits the nest in search of food, she pulls the down over the eggs; she leads the young to the water, or carries them thither in her bill, teaches them to dive for food, and protects them from their worst enemies, the black-backed gulls; by the 1st of August old and young are moving southward.
In many places the nests are robbed by man of both down and eggs, when the female seeks another male, and lays a second time with the usual quantity of down; if again disturbed, she will try a third time, the down being supplied from the breast of the male. The unnecessary destruction of the birds by the eggers of Labrador has nearly destroyed the trade, and driven them further north. The down of a nest, though bulky enough to fill a hat, when cleared of grass and twigs rarely weighs more than anounce, though an instance has been related in which the quantity obtained the first time from a single nest is said to have weighed half a pound; when properly cleaned it is worth from 12s. to 14s. per lb. for the English market. So highly is it prized for warmth and lightness, that in Iceland and Norway the districts resorted to by the duck are valuable property, and are strictly preserved. The Icelanders make artificial islands by cutting off projecting points from the mainland, such spots being more attractive to the birds from their seclusion than the mainland itself.
Eiders fly rapidly, steadily, and generally near the water, rarely more than a mile from the shore; they are very expert divers, descending several fathoms, and remaining long under water; their food consists of Crustacea, mollusks, and the roe of fishes; the gizzard is large and muscular; they are rarely seen inland, unless driven in by storms. They are shy, and difficult to kill; the flesh of the young and females is said to be well flavored, but that of the males is tough and fishy, and rarely eaten. The common eider has been reared in captivity, becoming as gentle and tame as the domestic duck, with which it readily associates; from its eminently social disposition, it would doubtless be a valuable acquisition in a domesticated state, for its feathers and down, for its eggs, and even for its flesh. - The king eider (S. spectabilis, Leach) is handsomer than the preceding, and like it is an inhabitant of the higher latitudes of both continents. The bill of the male is yellowish, the upper mandible having at the base a soft, compressed, orange-colored substance, extending upon the forehead; the front is covered with short black feathers; the general shape is like that of the common eider, and the character of the plumage the same.
The iris is bright yellow, feet dull orange with the webs dusky; the head is bluish gray, darkest behind; the sides of the head pale bluish green; a black spot below the eye, and two lines of the same color on the throat; fore neck cream-colored; the sides and posterior part, with a patch on the wings, and one on each side of the rump, white; lower plumage blackish brown; posterior part of back, scapulars, larger wing coverts, and secondaries brownish black, the latter with a greenish gloss; primaries and tail blackish brown; the size is about that of the other species. The female is quite different, having the head grayish yellow, with small brownish black lines, the scapulars with brownish red margins, the general color of the lower parts pale yellowish brown, and the quills and tail deep grayish brown; the feathers of the lower neck, breast, sides, and lower tail coverts with a centre and margin of brownish black. The king eider is not often seen in the United States, breeding further north than the common eider; its habits resemble those of the latter species; its home is the sea, the land being visited only in the breeding season; its down is valuable; the eggs are about 2 5/8 in. long, of a dull greenish color.
Eider Ducks (Somateria mollissima), Male and Female.
King Eider Ducks (Somateria spectabilis).