Mostly eider down is from the common eider duck Somateria mollissima.
The down is plucked from the female from her breast and used to line her nests.
In Iceland this happens in the 2nd and 3rd weeks of June. When the eider ducks pluck their down out farmers sail about the tiny protected island sanctuaries of north-west Iceland where the birds live and take the down out of nestsand replace it with hay to keep the chicks warm.
The rest of the year the farmers care and protect the eiders as they are so valuable for their down. The main predator of eiders is mink.
Then the down has to be laid out to dry on the islands and then heated to 230F (110C) to kill off wee bugs. Any feathers are picked out by hand. Next, the down is packed up and sent off for professional electrostatic cleaning. Finally, up to 2.5 lb of natural down is used to stuff a duvet.
Eider down is the softest, lightest and warmest down in the world.
It costs more than £1,000 for a genuine eider down. The Japanese in particular revere eider duvets as status symbols and their demand for the real thing combined with the limited supplies has pushed up the price.
Eider ducks are the UK’s heaviest duck and fastest flying duck.
One of the first birds to be protected by law were the eider ducks of Farne island in Northumberland who were protected by law by Saint Cuthbert in 676. 1,000 pairs still nest there every year. The emblem bird of Northumberland is an eider.