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Somateria mollissima

The eider is the UK’s heaviest duck, weighing in at over 2kg, almost double the weight of a mallard.

It’s famous for its soft, downy feathers: records of us collecting eider down go back as far as the 14th century and led almost to its extinction in the 19th century.


All about eider

Eiders are rarely found away from coasts, staying close to the shore. They breed around the northern coastline of the UK, and turn up along the south coast in the autumn, with many spending the winter along the Solent coastline.

They can be regularly spotted – with binoculars or a telescope – riding the waves offshore at Hill Head during the winter months.

A male eider is black and white, with a black cap, and a pale green patch on back of its neck, and a yellowish bill. Females are brown with a black bill and look so different that they were originally thought to be distinct species. Both male and female eiders have elegant Concorde-shaped bills.

Like many ducks, eiders don’t quack. Instead they sound like they’ve just heard some scandalous gossip. Anyone remember Frankie Howerd?

Conservation status

Eider are amber listed in the UK.

Eiders may not be listed in the Solent’s Special Protection Areas but they are important for the coastal ecosystem and form part of the non-breeding waterbird assemblages for which these regions are protected.

Did you know?

Eider give their name to the type of quilt called an eiderdown. And did you know that the word ‘duvet’ translates from French as ‘down’?