Common eider (Somateria mollissima)
Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.
Common eider (Somateria mollissima)
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large (50–71 cm (20–28 in) in body length) sea-duck that is distributed over the northern coasts of Europe, North America and eastern Siberia. It breeds in Arctic and some northern temperate regions, but winters somewhat farther south in temperate zones, when it can form large flocks on coastal waters. It can fly at speeds up to 113 km/h (70 mph).
The common eider is both the largest of the four eider species and the largest duck found in Europe and in North America (except for the Muscovy duck which only reaches North America in a wild state in southernmost Texas and south Florida). It measures 50 to 71 cm (20 to 28 in) in length, weighs 0.81 to 3.04 kg (1.8 to 6.7 lb) and spans 80–110 cm (31–43 in) across the wings. The average weight of 22 males in the North Atlantic was 2.21 kg (4.9 lb) while 32 females weighed an average of 1.92 kg (4.2 lb). It is characterized by its bulky shape and large, wedge-shaped bill. The male is unmistakable, with its black and white plumage and green nape. The female is a brown bird, but can still be readily distinguished from all ducks, except other eider species, on the basis of size and head shape. The drake’s display call is a strange almost human-like “ah-ooo,” while the hen utters hoarse quacks. The species is often readily approachable.
This species dives for crustaceans and molluscs, with mussels being a favoured food. The eider will eat mussels by swallowing them whole; the shells are then crushed in their gizzard and excreted. When eating a crab, the eider will remove all of its claws and legs, and then eat the body in a similar fashion.
It is abundant, with populations of about 1.5–2 million birds in both North America and Europe, and also large but unknown numbers in eastern Siberia.
Eiders are colonial breeders. They nest on coastal islands in colonies ranging in size of less than 100 to upwards of 10,000-15,000 individuals. Female eiders frequently exhibit a high degree of natal philopatry, where they return to breed on the same island where they were hatched. This can lead to a high degree of relatedness between individuals nesting on the same island, as well as the development of kin-based female social structures. This relatedness has likely played a role in the evolution of co-operative breeding behaviours amongst eiders. Examples of these behaviours include laying eggs in the nests of related individuals and crèching, where female eiders team up and share the work of rearing ducklings.
A particularly famous colony of eiders lives on the Farne Islands in Northumberland, England. These birds were the subject of one of the first ever bird protection laws, established by Saint Cuthbert in the year 676. About 1,000 pairs still nest there every year. Because St. Cuthbert is the patron saint of Northumberland, it was natural that the eider should be chosen as the county’s emblem bird; the birds are still often called Cuddy’s ducks in the area, “Cuddy” being the familiar form of “Cuthbert”.
On to my photos:
These photos were shot in March of 2015 at the Muskegon Lake channel to Lake Michigan. I was holding off doing this post, hoping for better photos, and possibly getting photos of a male, but this species is such a rare visitor to Michigan that it is highly unlikely that I’ll ever see this species again. In fact, it wasn’t even on the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from originally, I had to add it to the list.
This is number 195 in my photo life list, only 155 to go!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!