The colourful world of eggs!

How d’ya like your eggs in the mornin’? I like mine without risks… Many species of bird have evolved ingenious mechanisms of egg laying, colouration, and nesting behaviour, to avoid predation and improve their brood’s chance of survival. If you have been lucky enough to see bird’s eggs you will know that they are startlingly varied in terms of size, colour and pattern, so why is there such difference in this life event that is universal across all bird species?

The environment in which a bird builds its nest is rarely predator free, as there are not many birds which are at the top of their food chain, even eagles and birds of prey are not immune to their eggs being stolen. One of the best ways for reducing the threat of predation to their eggs is to nest out of the way or high up in the top canopy of trees. But for ground nesting birds, as many of our shorebirds in Britain are, predation can be a big risk to their egg hatching success. To overcome this, these birds have adapted to produce eggs which match the ground substrate they lay on: and they do look remarkably like shingle and pebbles!

Birds that lay their eggs in holes or anywhere where dark, such as a kingfisher, are likely to have eggs that are either white or pale blue and this helps the birds locate them.

Egg pigmentation as a biological process is not as technical a mechanism as you might think! The production process of eggs resembles a miniature assembly line inside a female bird. Eggs receive their signature colour and patterning during the last few hours before they are laid. An egg’s story begins in a female bird’s single ovary. When an ovum is released into the oviduct and fertilized, it is just a protein-packed yolk. The albumen—the gelatinous egg white—is added next. The blobby mass then gets plumped up with water and encased in soft, stretchy membrane layers. The first globs of the calcium carbonate shell are then deposited on the exterior, with the mineral squirting from special cells lining the shell gland (uterus). Pigmentation, if any, comes next, with an overall protein coating added before the egg is laid. It takes about 24 hours to build a single egg.

University of Sheffield zoologist Tim Birkhead compares the pigmentation process to an array of “paint guns.” Each gun is genetically programmed to fire at a certain time so that the signature background colour and spotting of a species’ eggs is produced. Very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!


Easter Saturday Update

It hasn’t been a busy Easter for just us here in the office, but for our Ospreys too, as Maya has been defending the nest from a not only a couple of Egyptian Geese, but an intruding Osprey this morning. Since then it has been a reasonably quiet and sunny Easter weekend with both adults taking it in turns to incubate the four eggs.

33 catching some shut eye

The importance of discomfort

Bugs you don’t like touching, social situations and awkward family dinners, exercise and training for a cause, the foul weather curse of a Bank Holiday… The easiest thing to do is to turn away, head back indoors, run away screaming. We feel momentarily relieved, but what are we doing to ourselves in the longer term? Philosophy Friday is here once again, let us discuss.

We stop learning, we get too sedentary, we get less capable, we end up getting further and further from ever being able to confront these uncomfortable things. We teach our children to push themselves out of their comfort zone, to try things they dislike, eat their vegetables, work harder, do their homework, but do we live the message ourselves? When was the last time we pushed ourselves to solve a problem we feared we couldn’t do, or speak in front of a crowded room on a project we’d worked on, or run in a race in front of people, or come to think of it, do anything someone told us to do that we didn’t want to? As adults we stop trying to push ourselves, we stop learning, we regress intellectually. And we must challenge this, little by little, every so often.

I am constantly bowled over by the number of people many decades older than me shouldering their packs and heading for a distant ridgeline, or lacing up their trainers at the start of a marathon, making you smile, and feel humbled. What is it that makes some of us superhuman, interesting, admirable, able to perform feats with the same stamina and agility of someone half their age? Or someone with this infectious lust for life, this endless list of stories and anecdotes, and even more projects on the horizon, new things they want to try… that’s just it. They are constantly pushing their own limits and boundaries, testing their sense of the familiar and ordinary. They are looking at what they’ve done and thinking how to get that same feeling of euphoria back? We find exhilaration the same emotion as fear, and overcoming fear. The things which make us uncomfortable, things we’ve never done and are maybe hesitant about, or outright against. Yet someone says ‘I’m going to try it’. The sense of euphoria we feel when we overcome an obstacle, or finally understand a problem, when we step back and surprise ourselves, hearts beating, smiles radiating… there is no greater feeling. In great hardship and toil there is also great joy.

Specifically, being outside and dealing with the wilderness in all its incarnations is one of the most fruitful in terms of emotional and physical relief. Sufferers of stress, fatigue, anxiety and various mental health concerns report feeling a weight lifted after a stroll, and it comes as no surprise really, that the rhythmic roll of your steps helps walk your problems over. By the time you reach the front door again, somehow it doesn’t feel as doom and gloom as before, simply because you’ve allowed time for yourself, to breathe, listen, see… hunker down and really battle against the elements, get through the other side… for that hot cup of tea at the end, oh the simple things! There is no greater feeling than feeling like you’ve really earned a cuppa! My mantra is and has always been, if it’s difficult, double your efforts, make it twice as easy for next time. And that goes for other things too, like overcoming our social fears, our phobias, which can hold us back on an otherwise astronomic trajectory in our career and personal life: we are the only thing standing in our way!

So embrace the howling winds, the driving rain, the wet socks and burning chill on your face: when you finally reach shelter after your outing, you’re better adapted than you were in the morning, and you’ll be better adapted next time too. You’ll even go out more and more, which is, after all, why I’m in a job! I expect more and more visitors braving the onshore gales at Rutland Water to come and see the Ospreys now!

Safe landing

As our Satellite tracking pages are in the process of being updated, I thought I would drop by and say that we have our three musketeers all safely back in Rutland! 4K FINALLY came back last week after dragging his heels initially, S1 and 30 are more proactive about the breeding season and returned a while before. 

It truly is a remarkable journey, regardless of how long it may take them. With any luck we could see 4K and S1 breed successfully this year and push our chick totals up towards the 200 mark over the next couple of years. We think Maya might be the strongest contender for hatching the 150th chick at Rutland water, as she was the first to lay and is currently on 4 eggs!

We’re waiting patiently for all our birds to return, we’re only a couple away now, and the season is set to be a roaring success… watch this space!

Stick around for more..

In the nest this morning, Maya is sitting quietly incubating her 4 eggs and peacefully watching the day unfold. She is soon unintentionally divebombed by her husband bringing in a huge stick to add to the nest. She flies off a couple of seconds later leaving him to tidy up the mess and take over incubation for a little while!