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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


Can I Hatch an Egg I Found?

Heart Nest with Hands

Spring is one of my favorite seasons. The flowers are blooming, birds are singing lullabies to their nestlings, and the consistent rainfall leaves everything feeling new, fresh, and clean.

As an amateur birder, my favorite part of spring is the return of the robins, red winged blackbirds, and sparrows, as well as the more elusive kingfishers, egrets, and other waterfowl that comes to visit our lake home to nest.

Just the other day, my son came running home with a robin egg that he had found in a neighbor's backyard. It seems like everyone stumbles across some found eggs at some point in time, and leaving them where they are feels like a death sentence.

So what do you do- what can you do?

Removing a Wild Bird Egg is Illegal

Sorry, Folks. If you heard it here first, then I hate to be the harbinger of bad news.  

In the US, according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, it is illegal to "pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention . . . for the protection of migratory birds . . . or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird." (16 U.S.C. 703)

Long story short, it is illegal to remove a nest or egg from a migratory species, punishable by a fine (up to $15,000), jail time (up to 6 months), or a combination of the two. Fortunately, this law is really in place to help protect migratory species from being mass harvested and exported to other countries, impacting our migratory bird population. It was enacted to combat a growing problem at the turn of the century, and has been effective in reducing that risk.

So while this does impact your ability to hatch a wild egg, the reason that you aren't supposed to collect those abandoned eggs is actually intended to protect and preserve our wild bird population.

So What Can I Do?

While obeying the law should be your main priority, there are things that you can do to help ensure that the egg or nest that you have found is given the best chance at survival.

I Found An Entire Bird Nest That Looks Abandoned

Kill Deer Ground Nest

Sometimes, you will find what appears to be an entire abandoned nest. Disturbing an entire nest is often a bad idea for a number of reasons:

The Nest may not be abandoned. Some birds actually nest on the ground, and lay their eggs there, such as the Killdeer pictured above. They have done this intentionally, and disrupting their nest can make the parent abandon their nest completely.

Many birds will lay only one egg a day, and will continue to lay eggs until they have a full clutch. This means that while the nest may appear unattended, it may simply be that the mother is not yet ready to start incubating her eggs. They will often stay away from the nest until they are ready to sit, because they don't want to give away their nest location to potential predators.

Now, if you find what you are able to clearly identify as a tree nesting bird nest, such as a robins nest, lying on the ground under a tree, then the best course of action would be to replace the nest in the tree. The nest may have simply been knocked out of the tree due to high winds or other weather.

Fortunately, if a mother loses a nest or a clutch, they will most likely try again in a more secure location.

I Found A Bird Egg Not In A Nest

If you have found an abandoned egg, there is most likely a reason it has been abandoned. Chances are, the mother chose to reject the egg because it was infertile or unlikely to hatch, or it could have been dropped by a predator that originally stole it from it's nest. 

Either way, there is a very slim chance that the egg is viable, and it most likely will not hatch, regardless of the steps you take.

However, there are some things you can do to help give the egg a better chance at survival:

Look for a nearby nest. Just as the apple doesn't fall from the tree, the egg typically doesn't fall far from the nest. If you can find a nest that has the same type eggs, and are pretty confident that it came from that nest, then go ahead and put it back there. Don't go looking for a nest if you can't find one in the immediate location, as you don't want to risk overcrowding another bird's nest, or abandonment of that nest by the mother.

Reach out to a local wildlife rehabilitator who is licensed to care for injured and orphaned wild animals. Do not collect the egg to take to them, but be prepared to show them where the egg is located. Note that they many only be interested in the egg if it is of an endangered species.

But I Really Want To Hatch The Egg Myself!

lady sitting on nest

If you are a hardcore, law-breaking rebel who simply can't resist the urge to incubate the wild bird egg, then this is best done in a standard egg incubator with an egg turner.

Wild birds are tricky to incubate, especially if you are not quite sure what breed it is, as different birds require different incubation periods. For example, pigeons incubate for a period of 17 days, while finches and doves are a period of 14 days.

If you choose to hatch the wild bird egg yourself, then do your best to identify the type of bird egg before you begin, and do your research! You will need to fully understand what incubation parameters, such as duration, turning intervals, humidity, and temperature, you will need for hatching, and how to care for the bird after hatch.

Most bird eggs require 100 degrees F temperature for incubation, and humidity of about 50% during incubation, 60% during the last three days for hatching. This may differ slightly for different egg types, so familiarizing yourself with the bird that you are attempting to hatch is crucial in any situation!

What Do I Do With The Bird Once It Hatches?

If you have thrown caution to the wind, and successfully hatched the egg, then congratulations! You are now officially a Mama Bird. And let me tell you, a Mama bird's job ain't easy. Now that it has hatched, you have to actually keep it alive, which is a whole 'nother thing altogether.

Baby birds can have a varied diet based on their breed, usually worms or a variety of insects, but that doesn't change the fact that they will need to be fed about every 5-15 minutes during all daylight hours for the first 2 weeks of life.

So while you are a Mama Bird, that is pretty much the only thing you will have time to be.  

So What Are You Trying to Say?

Basically, if you find a wild bird egg, leave it alone. Egg abandonment is extremely common, and the Mama bird is the best judge of which eggs will have the best chances of survival. Trust her judgement. The mother has moved on, and so should you.

Not only is it illegal to collect the egg, it is difficult to incubate, almost impossible to care for after hatching, and the chances of survival are extremely slim. 

If you feel that something needs to be done, contact a professional. They can make the decision if the egg is viable, and worth collecting and incubating.

However, if you have a great desire to incubate and raise birds, then there are lots of domestic bird breeds that will not only be easier to hatch, keep, and care for, but can provide you with a source of fresh eggs, meat, and endless hours of entertainment.

If you really want to make an impact or difference on a bird species, choose a heritage chicken or heritage duck breed to start your flock.

Whatever you decide, good luck and happy hatching!

Emily Baker launched the Incubators.org website in 2010 with her husband, Christopher. The site offers a complete incubation and poultry supply business. Emily has personally assisted thousands of hobbyists and breeders in selecting appropriate incubation equipment and supplies, proper use of that equipment, and providing general incubation support. She has also had multiple articles published regarding incubator selection and technique. Read all of Emily's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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