The tiny island of Lånan is not only unique because of its low-lying topography, accessible by boat it is far off the beaten path and has a very special connection to nature. Navigating through narrow, shallow, rock-laden passages among the skerries that comprise Lånan and neighboring island communities requires calm weather and attention. Lånan’s recent addition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has attracted new tourists, and preserved a relationship between islanders and Eider ducks. Residents at Lånan no longer live permanently on the island. Each spring, however, the women who tend the ducks return to prepare for the arrival of the Eiders. The women’s families and grandchildren enjoy summer holidays on the island, but the women stay all season and are attentive to the Eiders; ensuring the nesting grounds are respected. During spring, shelters are made ready in which the ducks nest; varying from wooden A-frames, to rocky roofs. The island is inspected for predators, such as minks, who if detected by smartly sniffing dogs are removed in order to maintain the safety of Eiders and eggs.
The Eiders return to Lånan in April to mate, each returning to their shelter from the previous year. The female prepares a nest of seaweed and occasional knick-knacks (apparently they are quite the collectors), and finally she tops the nest with a circle of down which she pulls from beneath her own feathers. The female tends her eggs, while the women of Lånan peek at the ducks daily and await the hatching of the ducklings. The Eiders are well protected at Lånan, while they prefer quiet during nesting they do not mind the daily visits from their tenders. The eggs hatch in late June, and the ducks roam the island with their ducklings. Nests are abandoned, so the women go to each nest to collect the bundle of down remaining. There were 800 nests maintained on Lånan when we visited, those were the nests in shelters. There were an additional 200 nests maintained that were not in shelters. Collected down totals roughly 15kg – down weights nearly nothing! Eider ducks have remarkably soft down; it is softer than goose down because the feathers do not have sharp ends (you know those ends that poke out at you through the pillow). The women of Lånan began collecting Eider down during the 1800’s; today their great-granddaughters continue the collection and preparation of this priceless material (roughly $5,000 for a made-to-order duvet). Once the down has been collected (see the little piles in the background of the photo below) from each nest, the women hand-pick pieces of seaweed and eggshell from the down. Then the down is placed onto a harp, a wooden frame with fishing line strings. Using a wooden dowel to rake across the harp, this method shakes free the remaining small pieces of debris in the down. Having been cleaned, the down can then be used to make duvets, gloves, slippers, and all the wonderfully warm accessories that bring wintry chills to mind.We had a memorable visit, and would like to thank our hostess for her hospitality and education!