Mitiq — Eider

Qingalik, the king eider.

Two species of eider live in the Arctic, the king eider, qingalik, and the common eider, amauligjuaq. The two have many attributes in common, and the Inuit usually refer to both of them by a single name, mitiq, eiders. This is a common practice among Inuit, who often associate similar species in pairs.

Qingalik means "one who has a nose", referring to the large protuberance above the bill of the male king eider. King eiders are smaller than common eiders, but while males are easily differentiated, females of the two species appear very similar. In early spring, while there is still some darkness in the sky, the king eiders fly north, arriving before aggiarjuit, the long-tailed ducks. Their eggs are smaller than those of the common eider. As soon as the young ducklings can walk, they follow their mother down from their inland nests to the shores of the ocean. The eiders feed on marine and freshwater molluscs and crustaceans such as uviluit (molluscs), ipiksaunait, and ulikapaat (tadpole shrimp, Lepidurus arcticus). Later in the summer, in August, the males fly off to Baffin Island to moult. The females, however, stay in the area until the ice begins to form again on the ocean in October. Eiders beat their wings very rapidly when they take off, and as they fly, which makes them easy to identify (Randa 1994).

The common eider is unusual in having two distinct names, one for the male and one for the female duck. The male is amauligjuaq, "the big one with a pouch on its back". The idea that the duck wears a pouch probably stems from the white plumage on the eider's back, which resembles an amauti, the pouch in which Inuit carry their babies. The female eider, whose plumage is completely different, is called surluktuuq, "the one with large nostrils". Although it used to be more plentiful, the common eider is now much less common in Igloolik than the king eider, and arrives later in the spring. The females of both species leave in September or October (Randa 1994).

King and common eiders are common in many areas of the Arctic, especially near the coasts. Inuit watched these ducks carefully, as they helped to tell the time of year. When the young king eiders began to grow feathers under their wings, or when their feathers became lighter-coloured, this indicated that it was the season when fish were beginning to migrate up the rivers to the inland lakes. By looking at the ducklings, therefore, the Inuit knew when to travel to the rivers to net or spear fish (IOHP 402, 370). In the same way, by observing when the young ducks began to travel from the lakes out to the ocean, hunters could gain information about the activities of caribou living dozens of kilometres inland. Thus they could organize caribou hunts at appropriate times. When asked how the hunters knew when to leave the shoreline and trek inland to hunt caribou, an elder of Igloolik explained, "I know that we did not follow the month; there was a saying from people before us that 'The eider ducklings have now started for the sea, it is now the right time to head for the inland as the thickness of the hairs (on caribou) are just right for clothing'." He pointed out that this also corresponded to the time when the mosquitoes had died off, which made life much more comfortable (IOHP 200).

Although not a major prey item, eiders were hunted for food when possible. They were caught at their nests by snaring them with cords placed around the nest and weighted down with rocks. Eider meat was appreciated, and so were the eggs which were harvested in great numbers. Some areas where eiders used to nest are now no longer used. Elders suggest that this is because people have started to camp there in the spring (IOHP 370, 428).

On the Hudson Bay islands, eiders were an important prey for the Inuit, and very skilled workers used their skins to make clothing and other articles.