Monday, February 23, 2015

Eggs, eggs, eggs!

Egg Questions and Answers

How long does it take a bald eagle egg to hatch?
There are two ways to think about this: from egg laying to hatch, and from pip to hatch
  • From egg-laying to hatch: Most experts say 35 days, give or take a few. In Decorah, hatches have ranged from 35 to 39 days after lay, with the first egg usually taking the longest. I'd look for first hatch to occur about 38 days after lay, so we're looking at March 28.  In Fort St. Vrain, hatches have ranged from 36 to 40 days after lay, with the first egg usually taking the longest, so we're looking at March 25th. But it could be a little earlier or a slightly later than that.
  • From pip to hatch: Pipping occurs when the baby eagle's egg tooth first breaks through the eggshell. It can take as long as a day for the chick to fully hatch. 
How big is an eagle's egg?
Bald eagles lay white, oval shaped eggs. Size-wise, they are just a tad smaller than a tennis ball, although tennis balls are round, not oval. They weigh approximately 125 grams or 4.4 ounces, and are on average about 2.9 inches long and 2.2 inches wide.

How many eggs will the eagles lay? Will all of their eggs hatch?
Although the most common clutch size for eagles is two eggs, the Decorah Eagles and Fort St. Vrain  have a history of laying three eggs. The breakdown among bald eagles in general is as follows:
  • 79% of clutches have two eggs
  • 17% of clutches have one egg
  • 4% of clutches have three eggs
Both sets of eagles have hatched all of their eggs to date; however, fertilized eggs can fail to develop due to extreme cold, soft shells, or microorganisms. We are hopeful they will have another great year, but we won't know until it happens.

What is in those eagle eggs?
At this point, the developing embryo is still quite small. It is surrounded by the amnion, a fluid-filled bag that helps protect it from jarring and sloshing. The yolk and albumin provide nourishment and additional cushioning, the allantois filters out waste products from the kidneys, and the chorion provides ventilation.  Inner and outer shell membranes help safeguard the embryo from bacterial contamination and keep the egg's insides from leaking out through its highly porous surface.  Embryo, fluids, and membranes are all enclosed in a chalky membrane that strengthens the egg, providing an additional layer of protection from punctures and pressure. An outer cuticle on the chalky membrane (what we think of as the shell) gives texture and even more protection to the eggs.

How do eagle parents care for eggs?
Eagle parents ensure optimal temperature and humidity by alternately incubating, getting off, and rearranging their eggs. While turning eggs might be a matter of instinct, it also prevents the embryos from sticking to the insides of their eggshells, and it optimizes membrane growth. They move very carefully around the eggs, often balling or partially closing their long, sharp talons to keep from puncturing the eggs. Concerned about the amount of time the eagles are spending off the eggs?
Read this blog:

The following resources helped me learn and write about this topic:
  • Bald eagle egg size and color:
  • What's inside that egg?
  • The importance of egg-turning:
  • Previous blogs at this site.
Did you know?
Some birds bury their eggs in compost heaps to incubate them. Meet the megapodes!

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