General Question

mayratapia_'s avatar

Does a mother bird know if her egg is alive or dead?

Asked by mayratapia_ (368 points ) April 22nd, 2011

A mother dove has decided to build a nest on a ladder in front of our window. She & ,what we think may be the father bird, have gone back and forth taking turns warming the egg during the entire day. Last night we checked on the bird & she was gone. There were feathers everywhere, sign that a cat must have gotten to her. We saw two small eggs on the ground near the ladder one broken & one in tact. My mom then placed the unbroken egg in the nest with hopes of the mother or father returning. This morning I saw the mother bird sitting in her nest. Was putting the egg back in her nest a good idea? Do birds naturally know the conditions of their eggs?

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11 Answers

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I am not sure,but I think they might.
I had doves for two years nest in a hanging planter on my porch.They had about three broods per year so maybe yours will find another mate.

mayratapia_'s avatar

Did they use the same nest?

thorninmud's avatar

Birds will attempt to incubate infertile eggs, so they’d probably do the same with a fertile egg that had died.

ragingloli's avatar

I doubt it. They do not even know whether the eggs they are sitting on are even theirs. See cuckoo

Blueroses's avatar

Great question. My friend raises Budgies and sometimes the female will kick an egg out of the nesting box and it always smells and looks rotten. Perhaps they’ll try to incubate an egg until the odor tells them it’s dead?

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@mayratapia_ They did use the same nest for a few years in a row.They would add to it as needed.
This year,they were cooing outside my house before I put the planter back in place.One even landed a few feet away and was cooing.
I hung the planter back up and one came and stayed in there for awhile but I haven’t seen either one in two days.
This morning,I saw a Cooper’s hawk hanging around.I hope it didn’t get my buddies.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@ragingloli this pic is hilarious. “Ya know… its the strangest thing, my son seems to have grown 3 times bigger than me….oh well heres your food honey”

FluffyChicken's avatar

They sure don’t. They will even try to incubate things that aren’t eggs. I wish I could find the video I watched on this, but someone did this study with seagulls where they put things like fake eggs and ping-pong balls, and even blocks into seagull nests, and the seagulls tried to hatch them. Chickens will do this too, and some chicken keepers will keep a broody chicken occupied by giving them ping pong balls to sit on.

Blueroses's avatar

I saw that @FluffyChicken
I never thought that birds had a sense of smell but research is showing that they do. With their little brains, maybe the inanimate objects are still worthy of incubation because they don’t give off a death scent? It would be interesting if the golf balls were rubbed with the dead smell.

lemming's avatar

I think you did the good thing anyway, she’ll find out soon enough.

thorninmud's avatar

A dead chick embryo in an intact egg will not decompose in the same way other animals do. The inside of the egg is well protected from bacteria by several factors (Salmonella is a notable exception, but even it is rare). An animal who’s been living out in the world acquires a large population of bacteria in its gut, and when it dies those bacteria go to work on the surrounding tissues and the animal rots from the inside out. The smell we associate with death is given off by those bacteria. The chick embryo has no intestinal flora.

Eventually, bacteria do penetrate the defenses of the egg and the egg will spoil, but it takes quite awhile. And it wouldn’t necessarily happen quicker just because there’s an embryo inside.

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