what to do with old bird egg collection

That was the challenge facing conservator Heidi Miksch at the State Park’s Historic Preservation Division at Peebles Island State Park. She had just gotten a case of bird eggs that had been collected in the late 19th century by the children of famous Hudson River School landscape painter Frederic Church.

While growing up in the family home at Olana in Columbia County, Church’s four children were part of the then-popular hobby of bird egg collecting, also known as oology or “birdnesting.” The children managed to collect and fill a large case with hundreds of specimens in wooden trays, each in a small labeled box lined with cotton.

The case had been stored ever since at what is now the Olana State Historic Site, where staffers intend to display part of the collection for the first time ever this spring in an exhibit on connections between art and the environment.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this display was cancelled last year. It is now scheduled for June 12, 2021 through October 31, 2021.

But many of the eggs were blackened with decades of dust and grime, and had to be cleaned before being displayed. So Miksch, who has conserved objects from a stuffed black bear to a piece of the Parthenon, researched a bit, and came up with her technique _ using conservation-grade cotton swabs, a dab of water, and gently rubbing. An average-sized egg takes about 20 minutes to clean, and the case contains eight trays, each with 36 boxes with most boxes containing one or more eggs. Miksch uses water, and not a cleaning solution, for fear of degrading the delicate eggshells.

Click through the slideshow as conservator Heidi Miksch (wearing the blue sweater) shows the Church childrens’ egg collection.

“The Church children collected many different kinds of eggs,” said Miksch. “I have even found a flamingo egg in there.” (For the record, a flamingo egg is white and oval in shape, appearing much like an oversized chicken egg.)

In the early 20th century, conservation concerns over the impact of bird egg collecting began to mount, and the practice later was limited in the U.S. under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

But when Church’s children – Frederic, Theodore, Louis, and Isabel – were growing up in the Hudson Valley during the 1870s and 1880s, egg collecting was seen as a good way for children to learn about nature while also engaging in healthy outdoor exercise.

To preserve a collected egg, a tiny hole would be drilled into it, and the contents would be aspirated out of the hole, and then the egg would be rinsed out to prevent rot and decay. Or two holes could be drilled and then the contents would be blown out. The empty egg was then carefully stored.

Egg collecting was not just a hobby for children. Cultured gentlemen of the era, particularly in England, amassed large collections and ranged over many nations in pursuit of rare or unusual eggs. One of the world’s richest men at the time, English financier Baron Rothschild, had a collection of nearly 12,000 bird eggs, which now resides in the British Museum of Natural History.

Egg collecting was at its zenith from about 1885 through the 1920s, with children being the vast majority of collectors, according to a 2005 research paper by Lloyd Kiff, past director and curator with the California-based Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology.

Collectors of the day would trade eggs among themselves. There also were commercial egg sellers, who would offer eggs for sale in catalogs, just like dealers in stamps or coins.

An American collector, William Brewster, who in the 1880s was the chair of the American Ornithologists’ Union Committee on Bird Protection, collected thousands of eggs that are now held in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

But the hobby began dying out as conservation principles and legal restrictions took hold, and by the 1940s the practice was all but gone. Today, it is illegal to collect bird eggs in the U.S. without a permit issued for research purposes.

The practice is also outlawed in England, although a few fanatical collectors persist despite legal sanctions.

Kiff’s study estimates that there about 80 major egg collections in the U.S., composed of about a half million egg sets, representing some two million individual eggs. These collections have demonstrated significant scientific value in subsequent years, supporting the discovery that exposure to the pesticide DDT was causing eggshell thinning in birds like bald eagles, Peregrine falcons, and pelicans.

This evidence formed the basis of a $140 million federal government settlement with DDT manufacturers in 2001, which Kiff described as the most important ecological use of any bird-related specimens.

He suggests that eggshell collections may also be useful in the future for the study of ongoing climate change and its impacts on birds.

This comes as expertise in this field is fading away, Kiff wrote, adding “The body of traditional oological knowledge may vanish, except on the browned pages of extinct journals, and existing egg collections may gradually become objects of greater interests to historians than to biologists.”

If you would like to see the eggs collected by the Church children displayed in the home where they grew up, visit Olana between May 9 and Nov. 1 for the exhibition entitled “Cross Pollination: Heade, Cole, Church, and Our Contemporary Moment.”

This exhibition features Martin Johnson Heade’s 19th-century series of hummingbird and habitat paintings – The Gems of Brazil – and their relationship to Hudson River School landscape painters Thomas Cole and Frederic Church.

Co-organized by the Olana State Historic Site, The Olana Partnership, and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, as well as the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, this exhibition will also feature work by contemporary artists including Nick Cave, Mark Dion, Jeffrey Gibson, Paula Hayes, Patrick Jacobs, Maya Lin, Dana Sherwood, Rachel Sussman, and Vik Muniz.

Cover Shot- Close-up of part of the Church children’s egg collection. (All photos and videos by NYS Parks unless otherwise noted)

History, Present Status, and Future Prospects of Avian Eggshell Collections in North America, 2005, Kiff, Lloyd L., American Ornithological Society.

Ornithologists and Oologist, Semiannual, January 1889 – Victorian-era instructions on collecting and preserving. Explains collector practices of the time period.

Fragile Beginnings: Bird Egg Collection – Blog post on collection decisions made at Wesleyan University

Robin, I’m sure you can see why egg collecting had to be prohibited. However, I don’t believe that owning a single robin’s egg on your mantel will result in your imprisonment. Even so, there are some situations worse than being incarcerated, such as being an oologist called “Dodo.” ” That would be much worse.

Last year I found a robin’s egg in my backyard. My favorite bird is the robin, so I kept the egg and put it on the mantel above my fireplace. My cousin informed me today that possessing this one robin’s egg is illegal and that I may face legal consequences. Is this true?.

When the Federal government decided in 1918 that enough was enough, they outlawed the gathering and ownership of almost all wild bird eggs. Following the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s enactment, the majority of American egg collectors made the decision to forgo potential legal issues, give museums their collections, and move on with their lives. With our friends across the Pond, however, this was not the case. It has recently come to light that egg collecting without a permit is still a thing in Great Britain. A significant issue is British egg collectors, referred to as “eggers” there (not to be confused with American eggers who only work on Halloween). Eggers are clever, obsessed and fearless. Some have even died trying to secure a prized egg. Because of this, authorities have been forced to substitute jail time for the customary monetary fines for egg theft. The newly introduced prison sentences are having the desired effect. Word has it that the egg thieves aren’t getting along well in the big house, so many eggers are quitting their illicit pastime. Apparently, “normal” criminals don’t like to be associated with weirdos who enjoy having dead eggs all over their closets. In Britain even criminals have standards.

An embryo had to be “blown” out through a tiny hole to prevent a collected egg from going bad. Finding recently laid eggs was the aim of a collector because they were the simplest to blow out. (Removing a half-grown chick through a tiny hole is difficult.) Sometimes egg collectors would destroy an entire nest of eggs, forcing the adult birds to lay new eggs in order to guarantee an egg was fresh. The parent birds were left with nothing when those fresher, newer eggs were taken for their collections.

Ornithologists are the term most of us are familiar with for experts on birds, but I bet few people are aware of the term for experts on eggs. Want to guess? (No, they are not called “eggsperts. ”) The folks who study eggs are called “oologists. ” Yes, you read that right; they are oologists. Talk about getting a bad job title—can you believe it? It sounds more like the name of a person who is knowledgeable about street signs in Scandinavia.

The practice is also outlawed in England, although a few fanatical collectors persist despite legal sanctions.

Miksch stated, “The Church children collected many different kinds of eggs.” “I have even found a flamingo egg in there. (Just so you know, a flamingo egg is oval in shape and white, looking a lot like a big chicken egg.) ).

Cover Shot: A close-up of a portion of the kids’ egg collection at the church (All photos and videos by NYS Parks unless otherwise noted).

Visit Olana between May 9 and November if you want to see the eggs that the Church children collected displayed in the house where they grew up. 1 for “Cross Pollination: Heade, Cole, Church, and Our Contemporary Moment,” an exhibition ”.

Collectors of the day would trade eggs among themselves. Like dealers of stamps or coins, there were also commercial egg vendors who would list eggs for sale in catalogs.


What can you do with old bird eggs?

Once the nest is “inactive”—that is, there are no viable eggs or live young—it is safe, and legal, to clean out a nest. We recommend disposing of those eggs, deceased young, and/or nest materials (e.g., if you’re cleaning out a nest box) in a place where they won’t attract insects to the nest area.

What to do about abandoned bird eggs?

Do not try to care for the egg/young yourself. In this case, the next step is to call a federally certified Wildlife Rehabilitator. If you believe your nest is abandoned, wait about four weeks from the last time you saw an adult at the nest.

What do I do with a bird egg I found?

Leave the egg alone if possible. In many places, it’s illegal to remove bird eggs from their natural habitat. In the U.S., for example, according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, it is illegal to take or possess any part, nest, or egg of a wild bird species.

Will abandoned bird eggs hatch?

It’s highly unlikely that you can hatch a bird egg. The smaller an egg is, the touchier it is to incubate. You need a specialized incubator, you need to know when and how often to turn it, and you need to know how long to incubate it.