William Morris. Commonweal 1889

Ducks and Fools

Source: “Ducks and Fools” Commonweal, Vol 5, No. 169, 6 April 1889, p.107;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

When I was in Iceland, I was told about the habits of the eider ducks, which breed in great quantities in the little islets scattered about the firths there, and also of their treatment. They, of course, get their own living; they are pretty good to eat, but not very good; so they are not allowed to be shot, because they produce valuable down, which can be got at by the following process: They make their nests on the ground in the above-mentioned islets; the duck half strips her breast of the down to line her nest; this down is at once collared from the nest by those who are privileged to do so according to law. Then the duck pulls off the rest of her down, as she is anxious to sit and hatch; comes the legal owner of the down, and takes that also. Then comes the drake and half strips himself; this also the legal owner takes, grumbling because the drake’s down is coarser, and also because his game is over; for now the poor devils of ducks would not hatch their eggs unless the drake were allowed to line the nest with all that remains to him. Therefore this time the down is not taken; the eggs are allowed to be hatched, so that in due time they may fulfil the function of their lives, and produce down for others’ use. Moral: Ducks are obliged to stand this from Icelanders; but why Englishmen should stand similar usage from Englishmen is a curious question.