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Why are bird eggs different colours?

Sent in by Roy Codd, Basingstoke, Hanpshire

In the same way that the colour of a bird’s plumage can vary from species to species, the colour of bird’s eggs can differ too.

These range from plain colours to a whole host of different coloured markings.

Birds that lay their eggs in the open or on the ground, such as the lapwing, rely on their eggs being well camouflaged. This camouflage takes the form of coloured spots or patterns, which blend into the surrounding ground cover.

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.

The eggs of the great crested grebe can actually change colour during incubation. These eggs start off a bluish white colour and after being in contact with the water plant-based nest material, these eggs turn a brownish colour.

Despite the variations in bird egg colour, there are in fact only two pigments, which are responsible for bird egg colour. Oocyan, which derives from bile, is responsible for blue and green shades and Protoporphyrin, a blood derivative, is responsible for spots, patterns and some general colour.

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