For the Birds Radio Program: Eggs

Original Air Date: April 10, 1995

Today Laura Erickson talks about the incredible, edible egg. 4:03 (date confirmed)

Audio missing


Which came first: the chicken or the egg? The answer is actually pretty simple. Every chicken came from an egg, but eggs come from many species, from turtles and dinosaurs to duck-billed platypuses. Birds have reptilian ancestors, so obviously eggs came before chickens.

Sunny-side up or decorated for Easter, bird eggs have nourished humans practically, philosophically, and symbolically since earliest times. Our language reflects the importance of eggs to our culture: we don’t put all our eggs in one basket as we egg someone on, trying to avoid getting egg on our face as we search for the goose who lays the golden egg, keeping in mind that we can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.

Medieval Europeans raiding gull colonies marveled at how some eggs contained nutritious yolk and albumen, others looking the exact same held a baby bird, and still others were rotten. The stench of rotten eggs is one of the most repulsive of smells, but the nourishment or tiny chicks contained in fresh eggs carried the day, and eggs came to symbolize new life to even the most ancient cultures. For birds themselves, eggs are simply elegant baby factories.

From the pea-sized, half-gram hummingbird egg to the four-inch-long Trumpeter Swan egg weighing more than three-quarters of a pound, to the nine-inch-long ostrich egg which takes more than 40 minutes to hard boil, eggs are almost as varied as the birds they hatch into. Birds decorated their eggs long before the Easter bunny got into the act. Although some are white or ivory, most birds produce delicately colored eggs, soft brown in chickens, blue in robins and bluebirds, green in ducks, olive brown in bitterns. Eggs may be solid, splotched, streaked, speckled, spotted, or spangled with intricate scrollwork. Owls and kingfishers lay spherical eggs, cliff-dwelling murres lay pointed, pear-shaped eggs which pivot rather than roll off the cliff. Plovers and some other birds that raise four babies lay conical eggs which fit together like the pieces of pie, pointed tips on the inside. Most eggs are oval or elliptical.

Minnesota birds raise families, not only-children. Loons and hummingbirds virtually always lay two eggs in a clutch. Robins usually lay four, Blue Jays five. Small, vulnerable wrens and chickadees ay six to thirteen, and ground nesters that produce large, tasty eggs and chicks, such as ducks and grouse, lay the largest clutches of all, with anywhere from eight to fifteen or even more.

Twins are extraordinarily rare in the bird world. The yolk of an egg is actually the entire ovum, so when a double-yolked egg is fertilized and successfully hatched, the babies are fraternal twins. This has happened only a handful of times in the history of the poultry industry, which produces billions of eggs annually. Only a single-yolked egg can produce identical twins, but because of the nature of bird ovulation and the development of a bird egg, this is even rarer. In wild birds, twins have been detected in the American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, and Brown Thrasher.

Foxes, skunks, raccoons, squirrels, bears, snakes, and even some birds such as crows and jays find eggs as tasty as we humans do, though they probably don’t spend as much time decorating them or pondering the unanswerable questions of life as they behold this eggstremely eggciting wonder of nature.