Monday, 3 June 2013

Variation on an eider theme

Why so many pictures of female eiders? Well besides being possibly the most beautiful bird of the island they are worth studying a little further.
Firstly they females are often described as brown (see wikipedia entry) compared to the outlandishly colourful male. But I think brown doesn't do these birds justice, they are a whole range of browns, greys and blacks with fawns and chestnut in there as well and in a beautifully intricate camouflage pattern. Also once you get your eye in your can see that these females are not all the same colour but there is tremendous variation in them, with blondes and brunettes and all inbetween. Why is that? Do they chose their nesting location to match their plumage? I don't know, but they do chose very different nesting locations. Some nest close to the paths and by our cottages,Others will nest in quiet corners away from all disturbance and some even chose to nest in the middle of the gull colonies, the gulls being the biggest threat to their eggs and ducklings. Maybe in the colonies, the gulls are so busy making sure that other gulls don't eat their eggs that they don't waste time on the eiders. For those by the paths, if they can put up with the constant stress of people walking past closely then these nests can be safer as the presence of the people keep the gulls away.  It is fascinating to see this variation in a species and with eiders its makes them seem more unique individuals rather than all being programmed the same way. Being able to spend so much time close to the birds and spot the differences is just one of the many benefits of being able to live on the island.

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