Last week while I was out working in the yard I noticed our little Cayuga hen Daisy carrying an egg shell in her bill away from her nest under the front porch. It was obviously one of her eggs and she had broken it and dropped it in the lawn. She then quickly went back to her nest and I didn't see her again until evening when she took her incubation break for the day. While she was off her nest I counted her eggs quickly from above. She started out with 14 that I could confirm two weeks ago, and now she had 11! Oh dear! My visions of a huge brood of ducklings were suddenly uncertain. I wondered what that egg carrying behavior was all about. Is this normal duck behavior? Did she know something about that egg that I didn't? Was it a bad egg?
Then this morning Derek and I saw her do the exact same thing. She was carrying off a broken egg, the yolk visibly dripping from the shell. My heart sank. What was wrong with my hen? Why was she carrying her eggs off her nest? I did another quick count and she now had 10 left in her nest.
I did some research and found out some things about ducks that I didn't know. First of all, waterfowl are some of the best mothers on earth. I already knew that, but the concept would be further ingrained when I learned that some waterfowl can sense when an egg is unfertilized or the embryo has died. They then remove the bad/dead egg and carry it away from the nest. It is thought that they do this to prevent predators from being attracted to a rotting egg. Amazing! Not all duck mothers will do this. Domestication has removed some natural instincts from a lot of duck breeds. Given that Daisy won't be a year old until July and this is her first clutch, I must assume that her maternal instincts are especially strong. I've never seen Macaroni, our blue Swedish hen, carrying off a single one of her 16 eggs. So either all of her eggs are viable or she doesn't have the instinct to remove bad ones. Time will tell.
Later this morning we were busy digging a hole for a future tree and I noticed Daisy off her nest again, only two hours after she'd carried off the egg. Truly concerned and wanting to know the fate of the rest of her clutch, I ran inside and grabbed my Surefire flashlight. Come hell or high water I was gonna shimmy my plump rump under that porch and candle Daisy's eggs! Before Jim could stop me, I was under that porch, my feet unceremoniously sticking out.
I carefully picked up the first egg and stuck the large end onto the shining flashlight. What I witnessed created such a rush of excitement that I can only compare it to going down that first hill on a roller coaster. I saw veins (positive evidence of life) and a duckling's bill and what appeared to be a duck foot! I gasped for air in the confined space I was in and set the egg down. I picked each one up quickly and carefully as I could. And in each egg I could see veins, bills, feet and even (OH JOY) movement! I counted out loud each egg that had a viable duckling inside...1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and as I said each number my voice got louder and my pitch got higher as Derek and Jim awaited the final tally above me on the porch. Ten viable eggs and not a single bad one. Daisy did know what she was doing!
Truly I was witnessing the most fantastic magic show on earth-the development of bird embryos right before my very eyes. Words can't describe the awe I felt. My only regret is that I didn't have my camera with me under the porch to photograph those 10 wonderful, awesome, fantastical live embryos inside those duck eggs!
Now, my blue Swedish hen Macaroni has her nest in a slightly easier-to-access location under the sidewalk by the pond. The next time she takes a break from incubation, I'm going to grab Jim and have him lift up the sidewalk so I can candle her 16 eggs. I will make sure to get pictures to share too.
If you've never seen a live chick or duckling still inside the egg you've never really appreciated life in the making. Mammals carry their babies inside their bodies and you can't hold that baby in your hands and marvel at it as it develops. Bird eggs can be held and, with a bright enough light you can see what's going on inside while the babies are developing!
I marvel at the God who created all the living creatures of the earth. His creation is perfect and awesome.
Everything you need to know about candling eggs is here.