» Skip to content

Published: 18 May 2019

By Andy Ross

Recent articles

View all stories

Eider ducks

We are lucky in Shetland to play host to that charismatic bird: the eider.

A few years back, when I was in Greenland on an arts project, a piece in the local museum in Tasiilaq caught my eye. It was, from memory, a framed piece of what looked like fur but in strange colours: black, white and green. It was only on returning to Shetland that it became clear the piece was a skin from the eider, used for blankets and clothing. Here is a picture of a beautiful blanket created by Inuit Greenlanders in the 19th Century, showing the striking green of the male plumage. 

Eider down is not only used in blankets and clothing but also in quilts. The feathers which go into the making of eiderdowns can be harvested with no damage to the birds whatsoever. These soft downy feathers line the nests of the birds, and cover the eggs, providing the warmth needed to keep the eggs developing. When the incubation period is over, or nearly over, the down can be collected and used for bedding and pillows. 

In Unst this week we happened upon a small group of these birds, the males looking smart in his black and white livery and the females looking cosy and warm in their shades of brown. Aren't they lovely birds?