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Spectacled Eider Somateria fischeri

The spectacled eider is a large colorful sea duck found in northern Alaska and coastal Siberia. For reasons that are not well understood their numbers plummeted at the end of the twentieth century. The Alaska Sealife Center and other agencies are engaged in studies to better understand the species, its natural history, and the challenges to its recovery. When these ducks are anaesthetized for veterinary procedures, they have to be kept on ice packs in order to keep their body temperatures down. The spectacled eiders are on exhibit in the annex attached to (but separate from) the Andean condor flight cage. These eiders were napping behind me as I did some work on the fence separating the two exhibits.

365 Urban Species. #339: Common Eider

feeding gull

Male and female common eiders together in the water off Castle Island, South Boston. Photos by cottonmanifesto

Urban species #339: Common eider Somateria mollissima

The winter migration brings North America's largest duck to Boston's waters. The common eider is in fact the largest duck in the northern hemisphere, living in European and Asian seas as well. Most have relatively short migrations, flying for example, from northern Britain to southern Britain or France, or from Canada to the Carolinas. Watchful eyes are on some of the Pacific populations, which migrate from Siberia to the Aleutian islands, thereby connecting Asia with North America. Avian flu could conceivably cross the Pacific by this route.

Common eiders are the most ocean-going of ducks, appearing on inland waters in only the rarest circumstances. They gather in large groups near the coast, and dive to the ocean floor for mollusks and crustaceans. Prey is swallowed whole and "chewed" by a muscular gizzard. Eider nests are composed of the down of the female, which is an excellent insulator against the arctic cold. Humans have made use of eider down for centuries. In Iceland, eiders have reportedly developed a kind of commensal relationship with humans: they seek out nesting sites near human habitations, where arctic foxes are less common. In return, the humans collect the down from the nests, replacing it with hay.

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The Urban Pantheist

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August 2014



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