Eider are cool – and warm

The people of the far north lands will use (or did use) the skin of a Common Eider duck, with body feathers attached, as insulation inside their footwear. The dense highly aerated feathers keep the chill away in a part of the world where chill can kill. The Cape Cod Canal is a favorite winter hangout for Common Eider in Massachusetts. Actually they are common in all of our coastal waters in the winter and are now nesting on the rocky islands of Boston Harbor in good numbers.
The young non-migratory males have long been summer residents in Duxbury Bay, Plymouth Harbor and all the bays to the north of Boston as well. The males don’t breed in their first year and are less inclined to migrate north to breeding areas. Even though we have some breeding in the area, most still fly well north of Massachusetts to nest.
The other day I snapped a few images of eider in the canal. They feed on bottom-dwelling mollusks as well as small crabs. Most of the time they just seem to hang out in mixed flocks and drift with the current/tide that flows vigorously through the canal.

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In migration the flocks are often single-sex or nearly so. In the canal there is a rather even mix of genders. However, the birds of the year, 8-9 months old (and only surmised by looking at males) are not as common as adults (2 years for a male, one year for a female) in these waters. 
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The males cut a rather dashing figure. The aquiline nose and shading draw attention to the bold pattern of the body feathering. 
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Like most species the passing of genes is not a sure thing. Odd splotches or patterns of white feathering, is common in many bird species but I have noticed it rarely in eider. 
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They drift along the edge of the canal riding the slower waters at the shore line. The water in the middle of the canal is much more rapid and is used less by loafing eider. They seem to be able to dive/feed through the full width of the canal as they are often seen diving in the middle. The numbers and exact locations seem to depend on the tides; but they are always there along with Common Loons, Red-Breasted Mergansers, and a few scoters.

 

 

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