The male eider duck is a particularly beautiful bird:
It has a much imitated call. This is a recording by “markwilmot”:
A female eider is a much drabber bird than the drake, and arguably, is barely recognisable as the same species:
Eiders are common enough birds around our coasts, particularly in the north east, but inland, they remain very much a rarity. This report details the only Victorian occurrence in Nottinghamshire:
“According to “The Zoologist” magazine, a female eider was shot near Nottingham on November 16th, 1882. It had been attracted to the area by the large number of acres of farmland under water at the time and its acquisition brought the number of Notts species to 240.”
The unrecorded wildfowler who shot this rather drab, but extremely rare bird, immediately took it to Mr J Stanley the “Art Naturalist and Sporting Trophy Mounter” of 5, Trent Street, in the City of Nottingham. The wildfowler was probably ignorant of the bird’s identity, but he would have been well aware of its value. For his part, Mr Stanley would have bought the bird from him without a moment’s hesitation. Look for the orange arrow:
Mr Stanley knew very well what the bird was, and he knew equally well who would pay a very large amount of cash for it. At 8 o’clock that evening, therefore, he sent a note, presumably by hansom cab, to Joseph Whitaker at Rainworth, some fifteen or so miles from his shop. Again, look for the orange arrow:
Mr Stanley must have been more or less totally certain that Joseph Whitaker, an avid collector of rare birds killed in Nottinghamshire, would pay him handsomely for such a rarity. Stanley’s note read, spelling mistakes and all:
“I have just had a Female Eider Duck come in shot to night in our Medowers it is left for me to buy if you have not got one & you would like it Please to right by return & oblidge your
Joseph Whittaker, of course, came immediately to Nottingham, perhaps even in the same hansom cab in which Mr Stanley had sent the note:
And Joseph Whittaker duly bought this exceptionally rare prize, although, unfortunately, we do not have any record of the price he paid.
Thirty years later, though, in 1913, Fred Smith, described by Whitaker on another occasion as “that shocking poacher”, was to charge him seven shillings for a pair of sheldrakes, a relatively common species, so we can only guess at what price was paid for a genuinely rare bird.