Friday mystery object #302 answer

Last week I gave you this egg to try your hand at identifying:


Eggs can be tricky, since they are largely similar in shape and, since egg collecting was banned many years ago, there are few modern resources for identification.

However, you can pick up clues by thinking about colour and pattern and working out what advantage it may have. So you might expect a brightly coloured egg to be laid in a well disguised and deep nest, where it’s unlikely to be spotted except by the parent, whereas a yellowy speckled egg is more likely to be camouflaged if laid in a fairly open, sandy environment.

So this egg was probably laid somewhere near the sea, which means it’s probably from a charadriiform bird (those are the shorebirds).

Now there are a lot of shorebirds, but this egg is pretty big and it lacks the strongly conical shape you’d expect from a cliff-nester like a Guillemot (the shape means it rolls in tight circle, making it less likely to be blown or knocked off a cliff). That actually narrows it down to a handful of birds that makes comparison easier. Curlew eggs, for example, are a similar size, but they tend to be more grey and have larger blotches, plus they’re a bit less elongated.

This particular egg has the shape and colour of a gull egg and large size means it’s almost certainly the egg of a Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus Linnaeus, 1758.

I would say more, but at the moment I’m at the natural history highlight of the year – the NatSCA conference. Here’s the Twitter feed in case you’re interested in the discussion:

Friday mystery object #37 answer

On Good Friday I provided a series of eggs in a mystery Easter egg hunt. I will list the answers at the end of this post with a reference to the people who made a correct identification, but first I want to discuss the issue of eggs.

I had reservations about putting together last Friday’s post, because eggs are a delicate subject matter – and by that I don’t mean I was concerned about possible damage to the eggs (I’m trained to deal with such things after all), I mean that the issue of eggs is ethically and legally delicate. I checked the Wildlife and Countryside Act  1981 and associated legislation to ensure that both myself and the Museum were on legally firm ground with respect to the eggs and I am now fulfilling the ethical requirement (as I perceive it) by attempting to clarify the position on collecting, keeping and trading bird eggs in England and Wales (slightly different rules apply in Scotland).

Collecting wild bird eggs is illegal. It makes no difference if the bird is a golden eagle or a wood pigeon.

Selling wild bird eggs is illegal. As one auctioneer found to his cost recently.

It is illegal to possess bird eggs unless you can prove they were obtained legally. This means that you need evidence that the eggs were collected prior to The Protection of Birds Act 1954 – and of course evidence means documentation.

Egg collecting used to be a common hobby, usually associated with young lads. Unfortunately collecting can be quite addictive and when someone of a collecting mindset wants to fill holes in their collection they will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to do it – breaking the Law included. This means that there are still quite a few people out there who collect and deal in eggs – something that has to be taken seriously. It needs to be taken seriously because collectors tend to target those eggs that are rare – precisely the ones that are needed for rare bird populations to survive and recover.

Museums have a bit of a hard time with people offering egg collections. Often when someone passes away their family will find a shoebox of eggs in the loft that was collected when the deceased was a child. Usually, such collections were collected prior to 1954, but they lack any documentation. This means that the family is left holding an illegal egg collection that they are keen to get rid of, but which they don’t want to destroy – so they offer it to museums. Of course, museums are bound by the Law, so they too can be prosecuted for holding egg collections that cannot be proved to pre-date 1954. This means that museums will turn away egg collections that lack proper documentation and associated data – and the best course of action is probably for the families to contact DEFRA for advice (they’re very approachable and they aren’t looking for unwitting innocents to prosecute). The advice I would give is that if the collection has no documentation and associated data (like species names, place collected and all-importantly date of collection) it is probably best to dispose of the eggs. If it does have data and documentation then a museum may be willing to take it as a donation – but bear in mind that most museums are very wary of egg collections and don’t be surprised if they decline your offer.

On to the answers! Continue reading