Sound and vision blog

06 January 2020

Recording of the week: Why you should listen to the common eider duck

This week's selection comes from Eve-Marie Oesterlen, Lead Metadata Manager for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

As Lead Metadata Manager for the Unlocking Our Sound project I have less time than I would like to listen to the sonic treasures we retrieve from the vaults. One of my guilty pleasures, however, is occasionally lingering in the corridor where the sound engineers’ studios are located to catch snippets of the sounds that are currently being digitised.

My favourite serendipitous discovery so far has been the call of the common eider duck. The UK’s heaviest and fastest flying duck, the eider is perhaps most well-known for its incredibly light and insulating feathers, the eiderdown, which has allegedly kept many a Vikings’ bed warm. Nowadays, the small soft feathers are mainly used as fill for luxury duvets.

illustration of the Common Eider Duck
Illustration from Coloured figures of the birds of the British Islands, issued by Lord Lilford https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/69277#/summary

In the excerpt below, you can listen to a flock of eider ducks or Somateria mollissima, as they are officially called, as recorded by wildlife recordist Richard Margoschis in the Scottish Highlands in 1984. The catalogue entry for this recording (WS5360 C7), copied below, illustrates the lyrical and sometimes (unintentionally) humorous quality of the metadata that is used to describe the wonderful wildlife sound recordings held by the British Library.

Species heading: Somateria mollissima : Common Eider - Anatidae
Habitat type: Temperate estuary. Tide rising.
No. age, sex: Ca.30, both sexes calling
Recording date: 1984-05-01
Sound quality: Sea heard swirling around jetty
Recording circumstances: Weather conditions: sunny & warm, light breeze
Local time: 13.00
Behavioural note: More male than female present. Some, all male, flew away. More available.

Eider 022A-WS5360XXXXXX-0107M0

I dare you not to be charmed by this lovely chorus of gregarious ah-hoos. It is guaranteed to blow anyone’s winter blues away; we all need some ah-hoo in our lives.

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