St Patrick’s specimens

Since it is St. Patrick’s day today I felt inspired to search our collections for specimens from Ireland. None of the sound recordings in the Borror lab were made in Ireland – I hope to change this soon as I am planning a trip to Ireland this May. I will keep you updated on which birds I manage to record. May should be prime singing time for most songbirds as they defend their territory and/or attract a mate.

When I searched the Tetrapods collection I came across some bird eggs that sure enough had been collected from nests in Ireland and transported across the Atlantic ocean to be included in our large egg collection. The majority of the 11 egg sets were accessioned when we received the large egg collection put together by Dr. B.R. Bales. He may not have collected all eggs himself, some of the eggs may have been traded with other egg collectors around the world. Such trades were common in former days. The eggs date back to the early 1900s (1899-1923) as you can see from the labels with each one. To my disappointment none were collected on St. Patrick’s day, but I guess March is a bit early for expecting breeding birds in Ireland!

So which species do these Irish eggs belong to? Take a look at the photos.

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Only one species is a songbird, the Dunnock. It builds its nest low in a bush and lays 3-5 blue eggs. Under low light conditions, like inside a bush, these eggs are hard to detect by a potential predator. Keep this in mind when you look at the color and markings of the following eggs of seabirds: The Atlantic Puffin digs a burrow in which it lays its single egg. No color camouflage needed there. Similarly the Manx Shearwater digs a 3-6 feet long burrow in which it lays its single egg. Again the white coloration of the egg is a sign of no camouflage needed. The European Storm Petrel places its nest in crevices between or under rocks, or burrows in the soil. Guess the color of its egg … These eggs are actually from two different females because each lays only a single egg per nesting season. Now look at the egg of the Common Murre, do you think this one is well hidden in a burrow or crevice? The intense markings all over the surface camouflage this egg very well against the bare rock it is laid on. The nest site is on cliff ledges or on flat stony surfaces near water. The last set of eggs is from a single female Corn Crake, a bird in the rail family, which builds its nest in grassland and relies on marking camouflage of its 6-14 eggs per clutch.

Bird eggs, their colors and markings are fascinating and have inspired many research studies. Do you have any burning questions? Leave a comment and we will get back to you.

Have you ever seen any of these birds? The seabirds can be found on both sides of the Atlantic. I have seen Atlantic Puffins on a puffin cruise off the coast of Maine.

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and former curator of the OSU Tetrapods collection.


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3 thoughts on “St Patrick’s specimens

    • Wouldn’t you think the murre egg could inspire an artist? that would be one amazing knitting pattern!

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