RSPB Scotland’s Jess Barrett has been seeing lots of eiders on her daily exercise by the Firth of Forth. Here are five facts about these seaducks you need to know.
Five facts about eiders
1. Is it an eider?
Eiders are bulky looking birds – they are slightly larger than mallards with a fat body, short legs, large head and a distinctive long wedge-shaped bill. As with many ducks, male and female eiders have very different plumage colouring. While the females are brown with dark mottling and barring, the males have a rather flamboyant look. Their white feathers with black crown, belly, flanks and tail make topped off by a lime green patches on the side of their head and a pinkish front, making them easy to identify if you spot them out on the water around Scotland’s shorelines. They are the UK’s heaviest duck and yet also the fastest flyers!
2. Coastal dwellers
As the term seaduck suggests eiders are a marine species. They are true birds of the sea, living around rocky coasts and in springtime can be seen around islands and low-lying land close to the water for nesting. Later in the year they often move to estuaries and sheltered coasts were there tends to be plentiful food for them. They are found all around the coasts of Scotland, both mainland and islands, throughout the year.
3. Diving ducks
Eiders dive into the sea to find their food on the seabed. Shellfish, especially blue mussels, are their favoured grub but they will also eat periwinkles, crabs, starfish, sea urchins and on occasion fish. So not fussy then! Eider ducklings swim and dive soon after hatching – crucial for them in learning the skills that will keep them fed throughout their life.
4. Nesting habits
The brown feathers of the female are the perfect camouflage for nesting. While they favour nesting in a sheltered hollow close to the sea they will make a space for themselves in the open if needed. Nesting eiders are often food amongst nesting Artic terns. There are usually 4-6 eggs laid and she will incubate them for 25-28 days, seldom feeding in this time. What a duck!
5. Sociable bunch
Eiders are very sociable ducks. Over the summer month mothers will often bring their brood of ducklings together with others to form a crèche overseen by several females. Groups of eiders without young are often seen together in summer too and in winter large flocks form – you can see them flying in low lines over the water or riding the waves together.
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