I found an eider nest on Thursday, but by Saturday a mink had found it, too.
It was eggshells all over the place. She was lucky, though: the mink didn't get her. She'll have time to try again, and on Sunday I saw 6 males trying to woo one female - perhaps that was her? The males are gorgeous, black'n'white, the females are just drab and brown.
Pic: Eider nest. There's lots of down in an eider nest. The female makes a bowl in the dirt and lines it with a thick layer of down, underneath and around her eggs.
So now I have a bagful of eiderdown. The internet wasn't at all helpful: a search for "cleaning eiderdown" got oodles of pages about "and this is how you wash your duvet", and only one page that mentioned "and this is how they clean the down from the nests". Unfortunately, that page was skimpy on the details. Yes, it said to "heat the down to 110 C to sterilize it", but it didn't say how. In particular, I'd have liked notes on dry heat (oven) or wet heat (steam), for how long to heat things, and similar practical things.
So I put a smidgen of a bit of it into the oven on 110 C and waited for about 10 minutes. That smells of overboiled eggs... but it wasn't all that bad, so I put the rest in, too.
Eiderdown is funny in that it clings to itself. And when you put a whole bagful into the oven it'll tower up all the way to the topside heating element ... oops.
So I let the oven cool back to room temperature, put things back in, and turned on the bottom heat only, to avoid having the house full of the exquisite aroma of burnt feathers.
About half an hour later, right, sniff, what's that? Ah, yes,
overboiled eggs and burnt hair the eiderdown. That's smelly enough to proclaim sterilized. And I'll open a window or three, too, because that burnt dry smell is rather bad.
Cleaning the sterilized down will be a project, too, as the nest was in a dry pine forest: there's lots of pine needles and other chaff in the down. But at least now I can be sure that there aren't any live bird fleas and similar.
There's another nest a bit further on which the minks haven't found. She'll brood for a total of 4 weeks, so I'll go have a look-see in a few weeks, and hopefully pick up some more down. Two nests should be enough for a nice pillow.