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The down of the eider

They are soft; they are cuddly and incredibly warm: We talk about the down of the eider. But in addition to these three features, there is another characteristic: the feathers are incredibly expensive. A quilt from the down of the European eider costs around 3,000 Euros depending on size and quality. Top prices for eiderdowns reach the 10,000 Euro mark. But what makes the down so special?

Unlike conventional feathers of ducks or geese the eider down do not protect the duck from cold or wetness, they exclusively protect the brood. The European eider uses its special feathers to cushion its nest and protect its eggs against the icy cold in the prevailing breeding grounds in the regions of Scandinavia (Denmark, Iceland). The down provides excellent protection against climatic weather conditions such as cold winds and low temperatures, protecting the breed as well as the offspring. Especially in Iceland the collection of the down is very popular – not only for commercial reasons.

Despite its proud price, both the European eider and its feathers are visually rather unspectacular. It has a brownish colour and differs in size and structure from conventional down: it is larger, finer and forms a bur-like fabric. Thanks to this structure it is possible to produce very light blankets, which keep very warm despite a small amount of filling material. In the nature, the bur structure prevents the feathers from being blown away by wind and weather: The down stick together and form a warming bundle that also fulfils its warming purpose in the eiderdowns.

Collecting downs: A hobby with profit?
In Germany the collection of down from the European eider is only permitted when the duck has left its nest. This is the only time when the “harvest” of the precious and warming feathers from the deserted nests is allowed. In Iceland, on the other hand, different manners prevail: Here the European eider is properly supported during breeding: With wooden houses and prepared breeding caves some collectors make it particularly comfortable for the ducks. Before the chicks hatch, the farmers exchange the feather dress of down found in the nests against warming straw. In Iceland the collection of the down is a lucrative source of income with which money can be earned very well: Prices usually fluctuate considerably during one year. Even hobby collectors, who do not live from this activity but have fun picking the feathers, will get their money’s worth while hunting for the down. Even if they have only collected a few grams, this may be enough to fill a very light but warming blanket. In order to enjoy the exclusive filling, the down are cleaned in a special wash cycle at over a hundred degrees. The cleaning process sometimes takes several days, as the valuable feathers are subsequently dried and hand-selected. Knots, straw, and other residues must be removed from the feathers otherwise it will become uncomfortable at night.

If you are embedded with a blanket of hand-picked down of the European eider, the effect of the special filling will quickly be felt: light and airy, but warming at the same time. Not for no reason do the down of the European eider belong to the noblest and most expensive feathers in the world.

Foto: ©sid221 – Fotolia.com
Text: GW

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