09 January 2013
British Bird of the Month: Common Eider
Cheryl Tipp, Natural Sounds Curator, writes:
The Common Eider, Somateria mollissima, is a striking seabird, both visually and acoustically. With its large, angular head, short neck and plump body, this marine duck can be found bobbing around the rocky coastlines of Great Britain throughout the year. Some populations are resident while others choose to frequent British waters for the winter months only.
As with most European birds, it is the male of the species that is blessed with beautiful plumage. The jet black crown, belly and tail are enhanced by two lime green patches on either side of the neck while the white breast is tinged with a hint of peach. Female Eiders are less impressive, with a generic mottled brown appearance, but are still easily distinguishable from other seabirds due to their distinctive morphology.
Though generally silent, the voice of the male during the breeding season is a beautiful cooing “ar-oooo”. The following recording is a typical example of this call and was made by John Aubrey Williams at Loch Beag on the Scottish island of Lewis in 1976:
As with many species, Britain’s heaviest and fastest flying duck (with a top speed of 70mph) has faced its fair share of threats. Sensitivity to coastal pollution, especially oil spills, and loss of feeding grounds due to overfishing of their preferred prey, benthic molluscs, have resulted in some local populations being vastly reduced and even lost. Despite these pressures, the Common Eider is still a relatively common sight and sound of the British coastline, if you know where to look!
More recordings of British wildlife can be found here.
(Image courtesy of Electrographica)