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Secret eider way

Secret eider way

NOW to the small matter of 140,000 missing ducks. Their winter whereabouts is another of nature's gravest mysteries - one which it's rather a shame to dispel, even if, like us, you did not know until now that you did not know.

The ducks in question, the Alaskan eider (as in down) gather for the summer in the sheltering forests of western Alaska. Comes a certain autumn night and poof! - or perhaps foop! - they all vanish without trace.

Now, thanks to a - in our view, slightly underhand - trick with a banded duck and a satellite tracking device, all is revealed. The ducks go and stand in small holes they have made in the otherwise featureless sheet- ice of the Arctic Ocean. A ridiculous way to spend the winter, did you say?

Listen, these are ducks ( we're talking about, not Margaret Drabble. Or even Jacques Chirac. In any case, you should be grateful, huddled under your duvet on raw summer nights, to think of those resilient birds out on the pack-ice producing down of the highest quality.