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A familiar species in northern Britain but only occasionally do they venture this far south

Photograph by: 
John Wall

The eider duck (Somateria mollissima) is a fairly common sight around the northern shores of Britain where they breed as well as over winter. They also breed across much of northern Europe too of course and those from further north do move south when the cold weather comes and every winter a very small number appear off of the coast of Dorset. The eider is a diving duck and so is most often associated with open sea but occasionally they enter one of our large natural harbours. Often they are more visible when in flight rather than when they are settled some distance off shore. The males have a striking black,  white and green plumage but they are rarely seen like this here being in winter attire during their stay with us. Eider were once a favoured hunting target for their downy feathers to make 'eiderdowns', the forerunners of the modern duvet, but now they seem to be increasing in numbers. 

Although a relatively scarce visitor there are eider present off our southern coast every winter and the weekly reports from Twitter users show that eider have been seen in just about every week from week 32 at the end of August right through until week 16 at the end of April. There are occasional reports during the summer months which are probably immature non-breeding birds. The number of reports is highest between week 48 at the end of November until week week 6 in mid February but these figures have to be viewed with caution as they can actually be multiple reports of a single long staying bird rather than reports of several different birds.

There are reports of eider from seventeen sites in Dorset and clearly the bulk are birds seen off shore in places like Poole Bay, Weymouth Bay and Lyme Bay as well as off Portland but there are several reports from Christchurch Harbour, Poole Harbour and Portland Harbour too. 

When eider arrive they tend to stay in a place that favours them for some time and so keeping an eye on the news and finding a long staying bird is going to be the best way to get eider on your Dorset list.  



Eider: once down but now on the up

Common Name Eider
Scientific Name Somateria mollissima
Species Group Birds Ducks
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
Look for

A large duck off shore with a distinctive pointed face 

Identification Notes
  • Large ducks usually offshore, sometimes well out to sea
  • Often more visible in flight where there pied plumage shows well even at a distance
  • They have a curious pointed face where the bill seems to be a integrated pat of their face 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Ducks