Tuesday, 31 March 2020

E is for Eider

Please remember! We ask that people do not visit the Reserve particularly if you have to travel. All car parks on Holy Island are closed to visitors until government restrictions are lifted. Many residents on Holy island fall into the vulnerable category. Please adhere to these guidelines for the health and safety of yourself and others during this time.

Along the Northumberland coast at this time of year you don't have to go far to hear the 'awoo' of a male Eider duck. Swimming and dancing around the females the dashing male, with his white, black and green plumage, makes this funny sounding noise to prove to the opposite sex how strong and virile he his. In contrast the female plumage is completely brown but exquisitely scalloped to help her melt away into the undergrowth when sat on a nest. The female carefully pluck out their downy feathers to form a bowl on the ground usually in vegetation. There they will lay up to 8 eggs, sit tight for a month, only leaving to feed, before they hatch. The ducklings have to be hardy as they are taken straight to the sea as this is the safest option to protect against predators. Often mothers band together and form a crèche of ducklings to provide extra protection.

Male and female Eiders in the surf ©JJD
At least a quarter of England's population of Eider ducks winter in Northumberland and Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve gets a good proportion of these. The bays and channels that criss-cross the intertidal area of the Reserve are used as a refuge area away from the rough water on the open coast. The strong tidal nature of the Reserve gives rich pickings of molluscs; their favourite quarry.
Female Eider and ducklings
The human history of Lindisfarne and Eiders have been interwoven for well over 1000 years. St Cuthbert who was the 7th century bishop of Lindisfarne was said to be the first nature warden, taming the ducks and introducing laws to protect them. It is from his Christian name that we get the Northumbrian term for Eider - the 'Cuddy Duck'.

This protection has extended into the modern day. Recently a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) stretching from Berwick to St Mary's island has been established. MCZ's protect nationally important habitats and species and this is the only one in England that is designated for Eider Duck, signifying the county's importance for this charismatic duck.

Despite being synonymous with Northumberland these ducks are in trouble. The reasons are complex and are likely due to a combination of factors such as predation of chicks, pollution and disturbance. There are a few things that you can do to help:
  • Please avoid disturbance: This can occur on shore or from activities at sea. Disturbance reduces the amount of time that the ducks and ducklings are able to feed and expends unnecessary energy. Keep dogs on a lead at all times when on the Reserve and ensure that you don't approach any birds, particularly crèches of ducklings.
  • Don't feed the ducks: In harbours where Eiders can congregate it may seem tempting to give them some bread or chips. Please avoid this as it offers little nourishment for the birds and will do them more harm than good.
A project called Eider Aware North East has been set up to raise awareness of the plight of the Cuddy duck and promote conservation activities. To find out more about what you can do to help visit: https://www.xbordercurrents.co.uk/eider-aware-north-east/

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