Bird egg

Bird egg

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Bird eggs are laid by females and incubated for a time that varies according to the species; a single young hatches from each egg. Average clutch size
Clutch (eggs)
A clutch of eggs refers to all the eggs produced by birds or reptiles, often at a single time, particularly those laid in a nest.In birds, destruction of a clutch by predators, , results in double-clutching...

s range from one (as in condor
Condor
Condor is the name for two species of New World vultures, each in a monotypic genus. They are the largest flying land birds in the Western Hemisphere.They are:* The Andean Condor which inhabits the Andean mountains....

s) to about 17 (the Grey Partridge
Grey Partridge
The Grey Partridge, Perdix perdix, also known as the English Partridge, Hungarian Partridge, or Hun, is a gamebird in the pheasant family Phasianidae of the order Galliformes, gallinaceous birds...

). Some birds lay eggs even when not fertilized; it is not uncommon for pet owners to find their lone bird nesting on a clutch of infertile eggs, which are sometimes called wind-eggs.

Colors



The default color of vertebrate eggs
Egg (biology)
An egg is an organic vessel in which an embryo first begins to develop. In most birds, reptiles, insects, molluscs, fish, and monotremes, an egg is the zygote, resulting from fertilization of the ovum, which is expelled from the body and permitted to develop outside the body until the developing...

 is the white of the calcium carbonate
Calcium carbonate
Calcium carbonate is a chemical compound with the formula CaCO3. It is a common substance found in rocks in all parts of the world, and is the main component of shells of marine organisms, snails, coal balls, pearls, and eggshells. Calcium carbonate is the active ingredient in agricultural lime,...

 from which the shells are made, but some birds, mainly passerine
Passerine
A passerine is a bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds, the passerines form one of the most diverse terrestrial vertebrate orders: with over 5,000 identified species, it has roughly...

s, produce colored eggs. The pigments biliverdin
Biliverdin
Biliverdin is a green tetrapyrrolic bile pigment, and is a product of heme catabolism. It is the pigment responsible for a greenish color sometimes seen in bruises.- Metabolism :...

 and its zinc
Zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

 chelate give a green or blue ground color, and protoporphyrin produces reds and browns as a ground color or as spotting.

Non-passerines typically have white eggs, except in some ground-nesting groups such as the Charadriiformes
Charadriiformes
Charadriiformes is a diverse order of small to medium-large birds. It includes about 350 species and has members in all parts of the world. Most Charadriiformes live near water and eat invertebrates or other small animals; however, some are pelagic , some occupy deserts and a few are found in thick...

, sandgrouse
Sandgrouse
The sandgrouse are a family, Pteroclididae, of 16 bird species, the only living members of the order Pteroclidiformes. They are restricted to treeless open country in the Old World, such as plains and semi-deserts. They are distributed across northern, southern and eastern Africa as well as...

 and nightjar
Nightjar
Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal or crepuscular birds with long wings, short legs and very short bills. They are sometimes referred to as goatsuckers from the mistaken belief that they suck milk from goats . Some New World species are named as nighthawks...

s, where camouflage is necessary, and some parasitic
Brood parasite
Brood parasites are organisms that use the strategy of brood parasitism, a kind of kleptoparasitism found among birds, fish or insects, involving the manipulation and use of host individuals either of the same or different species to raise the young of the brood-parasite...

 cuckoo
Cuckoo
The cuckoos are a family, Cuculidae, of near passerine birds. The order Cuculiformes, in addition to the cuckoos, also includes the turacos . Some zoologists and taxonomists have also included the unique Hoatzin in the Cuculiformes, but its taxonomy remains in dispute...

s which have to match the passerine host's egg. Most passerines, in contrast, lay colored eggs, even if there is no need of cryptic colors.

However some have suggested that the protoporphyrin markings on passerine eggs actually act to reduce brittleness by acting as a solid state lubricant. If there is insufficient calcium available in the local soil, the egg shell may be thin, especially in a circle around the broad end. Protoporphyrin speckling compensates for this, and increases inversely to the amount of calcium in the soil.

For the same reason, later eggs in a clutch are more spotted than early ones as the female's store of calcium is depleted.

Birds which build in trees generally have blue or greenish eggs, either spotted or unspotted, while birds that build in bushes, near the ground, are likely to lay speckled eggs.

The color of individual eggs is also genetically influenced, and appears to be inherited through the mother only, suggesting that the gene
Gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

 responsible for pigmentation is on the sex determining W chromosome (female birds are WZ, males ZZ).

It used to be thought that color was applied to the shell immediately before laying, but this research shows that coloration is an integral part of the development of the shell, with the same protein responsible for depositing calcium carbonate, or protoporphyrins when there is a lack of that mineral.

In species such as the Common Guillemot
Common Guillemot
The Common Murre or Common Guillemot is a large auk. It is also known as the Thin-billed Murre in North America. It has a circumpolar distribution, occurring in low-Arctic and boreal waters in the North-Atlantic and North Pacific...

, which nest in large groups, each female's eggs have very different markings, making it easier for females to identify their own eggs on the crowded cliff ledges on which they breed.

Shell


Bird eggshells are diverse. For example:
  • cormorant
    Cormorant
    The bird family Phalacrocoracidae is represented by some 40 species of cormorants and shags. Several different classifications of the family have been proposed recently, and the number of genera is disputed.- Names :...

     eggs are rough and chalky
  • tinamou
    Tinamou
    The tinamous are a family comprising 47 species of birds found in Central and South America. One of the most ancient living groups of bird, they are related to the ratites. Generally ground dwelling, they are found in a range of habitats....

     eggs are shiny
  • duck
    Duck
    Duck is the common name for a large number of species in the Anatidae family of birds, which also includes swans and geese. The ducks are divided among several subfamilies in the Anatidae family; they do not represent a monophyletic group but a form taxon, since swans and geese are not considered...

     eggs are oily and waterproof
  • cassowary
    Cassowary
    The cassowaries are ratites, very large flightless birds in the genus Casuarius native to the tropical forests of New Guinea, nearby islands and northeastern Australia. There are three extant species recognized today...

     eggs are heavily pitted


Tiny pores in bird eggshells allow the embryo to breathe. The domestic hen
Chicken
The chicken is a domesticated fowl, a subspecies of the Red Junglefowl. As one of the most common and widespread domestic animals, and with a population of more than 24 billion in 2003, there are more chickens in the world than any other species of bird...

's egg has around 7500 pores.

Shape


Most bird eggs have an oval shape
Oval (geometry)
In technical drawing, an oval is a figure constructed from two pairs of arcs, with two different radii . The arcs are joined at a point, in which lines tangential to both joining arcs lie on the same line, thus making the joint smooth...

, with one end rounded and the other more pointed. This shape results from the egg being forced through the oviduct
Oviduct
In non-mammalian vertebrates, the passageway from the ovaries to the outside of the body is known as the oviduct. The eggs travel along the oviduct. These eggs will either be fertilized by sperm to become a zygote, or will degenerate in the body...

. Muscles contract the oviduct behind the egg, pushing it forward. The egg's wall is still shapeable, and the pointy end develops at the back side. Cliff-nesting birds often have highly conical eggs. They are less likely to roll off, tending instead to roll around in a tight circle; this trait is likely to have arisen due to evolution via natural selection. In contrast, many hole-nesting birds have nearly spherical eggs.

The shape has biological significance. A pointed egg will tend to sit on its side, with the big end tipped upward. The big end contains the air sac and its shell is pierced by a higher density of pores than the more pointed end. Tipping the big end upwards improves oxygen flow to the large head, with the physiologically demanding eyes and brain, that develops in the big end while the tail develops at the more pointed end.

Predation


Many animals feed on eggs. For example, principal predators of the Black Oystercatcher
American Black Oystercatcher
The Black Oystercatcher, Haematopus bachmani, is a conspicuous black bird found on the shoreline of western North America. It ranges from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to the coast of the Baja California peninsula....

's eggs include raccoon
Raccoon
Procyon is a genus of nocturnal mammals, comprising three species commonly known as raccoons, in the family Procyonidae. The most familiar species, the common raccoon , is often known simply as "the" raccoon, as the two other raccoon species in the genus are native only to the tropics and are...

s, skunk
Skunk
Skunks are mammals best known for their ability to secrete a liquid with a strong, foul odor. General appearance varies from species to species, from black-and-white to brown or cream colored. Skunks belong to the family Mephitidae and to the order Carnivora...

s, mink
Mink
There are two living species referred to as "mink": the European Mink and the American Mink. The extinct Sea Mink is related to the American Mink, but was much larger. All three species are dark-colored, semi-aquatic, carnivorous mammals of the family Mustelidae, which also includes the weasels and...

, river and sea otter
Otter
The Otters are twelve species of semi-aquatic mammals which feed on fish and shellfish, and also other invertebrates, amphibians, birds and small mammals....

s, gull
Gull
Gulls are birds in the family Laridae. They are most closely related to the terns and only distantly related to auks, skimmers, and more distantly to the waders...

s, crow
Crow
Crows form the genus Corvus in the family Corvidae. Ranging in size from the relatively small pigeon-size jackdaws to the Common Raven of the Holarctic region and Thick-billed Raven of the highlands of Ethiopia, the 40 or so members of this genus occur on all temperate continents and several...

s and fox
Fox
Fox is a common name for many species of omnivorous mammals belonging to the Canidae family. Foxes are small to medium-sized canids , characterized by possessing a long narrow snout, and a bushy tail .Members of about 37 species are referred to as foxes, of which only 12 species actually belong to...

es. The stoat
Stoat
The stoat , also known as the ermine or short-tailed weasel, is a species of Mustelid native to Eurasia and North America, distinguished from the least weasel by its larger size and longer tail with a prominent black tip...

 (Mustela erminea) and long-tailed weasel
Long-tailed Weasel
The long-tailed weasel , also known as the bridled weasel or big stoat is a species of mustelid distributed from southern Canada throughout all the United States and Mexico, southward through all of Central America and into northern South America.-Evolution:The long-tailed weasel is the product of...

 (M. frenata) steal ducks' eggs. Snakes of the genera Dasypeltis
Dasypeltis
Dasypeltis is a genus of colubrid snakes. It is one of only two taxonomic groups of snakes known to have adapted to feed exclusively on eggs...

and Elachistodon specialize in eating eggs.

Brood parasitism occurs in birds when one species lays its eggs in the nest of another. In some cases, the host's eggs are removed or eaten by the female, or expelled by her chick. Brood parasites include the cowbird
Cowbird
Cowbirds are birds belonging to the genus Molothrus in the family Icteridae. They are brood parasitic New World birds which are unrelated to the Old World cuckoos, one of which, the Common Cuckoo, is the best-known brood parasitic bird....

s and many Old World cuckoo
Cuckoo
The cuckoos are a family, Cuculidae, of near passerine birds. The order Cuculiformes, in addition to the cuckoos, also includes the turacos . Some zoologists and taxonomists have also included the unique Hoatzin in the Cuculiformes, but its taxonomy remains in dispute...

s.