I had the tremendous privilege today of learning a great deal more about Osprey eggs in the course of delivering our two unhatched 2012 eggs to the National Museum of Scotland.
The two unhatched eggs, which were laid back in April, were removed under special SNH license at the same time as we did our chicks ringing and satellite tagging on Monday the 2nd of July. As these precious eggs are not the kind of thing you pop in the post, I delivered them in person to the head Curator of Birds at the NMS in Edinburgh today. He has kindly offered to analyze the eggs for development and he should be able to tell us in a few days whether the eggs were fertilized, and if so, at what stage of development they failed during incubation.
Small samples of the contents will then be sent to the UK’s in depth analysis lab in England for further profiling. I am told that not every sample submitted in a given year receives full profiling for pesticides, heavy metals etc, just a percentage of them to cover a representative geographical and species spread, or if foul play was particularly implicated. This explains why we did not receive in depth analysis of our unhatched eggs last year (though we were told they were fertile and that they had failed early in incubation). I am told that all these samples are placed in a deep freeze storage so as to be available for further investigation or study in the future.
Mr McGovern then treated me to a very rare treat indeed: a peak at the museums collection of Osprey eggs. These date back in some instances to the 19th century, before the birds became extinct in the UK, and have since been submitted by licensed ornithologists when they failed to hatch, or been confiscated by police. This precious archive is a great resource for studying the bird’s history and biology, and for future science. Our egg shells will become part of this archive.
I had asked Mr McGovern whether our eggs looked typical for the species to him, and if the fact that the two were marked quite differently was unusual in the same clutch. It turns out this is completely normal- and there was such variety amongst the eggs. Some where almost white and some were completely covered in large dark patches. Some were even different sizes in the same clutch. What stuck me most of all was the beauty of the eggs, with their speckled warm brown colouration, such perfect camouflage in the nest. The only thing more beautiful would be: a healthy baby osprey hatched from them! Lets all hope that bird egg collecting, which involves killing the chick to possess these shells, is now a part of ancient history for all birds, not just the Osprey.