Talking Eggs

July 5, 2023

So what does the title of this blog mean? Am I talking about eggs? Or am I saying that eggs can talk? A bit of both, actually.

We’re getting close to “pip watch” time. The pip is the first tiny hole in the egg, made by the chick as it begins pecking its way out of the shell. You can look for the pip when the adults are getting off and on the nest and when they are doing egg rolls. You need to see the blunt end of the egg; that’s where the pip first forms. I would expect to see the first pip on Friday or Saturday. But I’ve been wrong before so it’s worth keeping an eye on the eggs before then.

But before we see a pip, we are apt to hear muffled peeps coming from the chick inside the egg. That and the reactions of the adult sensing movement are apt to be the first signs that a hatch is imminent.

Two studies have shown that late-stage embryos in bird eggs can communicate with each other. A 1966 study found that the earliest laid eggs in a clutch of quail eggs would begin clicking 12 to 18 hours before hatch. The eggs that were laid later would respond to the clicking and the entire clutch would hatch hatch at the same time. This allowed the mother to forage for food without having any unattended eggs. Eggs experimentally separated from each other would hatch as much as two days apart.

A 2019 study of yellow-legged gull eggs showed that late stage embryos could detect warning calls of adult birds and communicate the danger to their nest mates. This resulted in the hatchlings presenting much more cautious behavior. The article I read didn’t specify but I would assume that meant less movement and less vocalization.

There haven’t been any similar studies on loon eggs but, considering that loon chicks are precocial (ready to jump in the water and swim after hatching), it’s a safe bet that by now these eggs are holding two conscious, sentient beings. I wonder if they are communicating with each other. I wonder if chick 1 is telling chick 2, “Stay out of my way, shrimp. I eat first!”