Just like we humans have a gestation period of 40 weeks for the baby to fully grow and develop, so do birds have an incubation period where they work hard on providing optimal conditions for their eggs to hatch into healthy fledglings.
Think of it like baking a cake! They are providing the optimum heat, nutrients, etc, and cooking it all in and the result is a healthy baby chick at the end of it.
The process of incubation is truly wondrous.
The parent bird’s efforts on the outside and nature’s processes on the inside work together beautifully to provide everything that a baby bird needs inside of the egg, as well as what it might need once it hatches out.
So today, we are going in-depth into this wonder of nature. How long does it take? Who does the main work, the mother or the father? What exactly is going on inside the egg during this process?
We’re sure you have plenty more questions to ask and you’re in luck because we’re here to answer them!
How Long Does It Take For A Bird Egg To Hatch?
When a bird lays an egg, the incubation period that the egg requires varies vastly from species to species.
The incubation period refers to the time between the uninterrupted incubation and the emergence or hatching of the young ones.
This period can last from 11 days, like in black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoos, and can go up to even 85 days, like in certain species of kiwi and the wandering albatross.
It is generally understood that small birds have a shorter incubation period, though there are many exceptions.
Who Does All The Work – Mom Or Dad?
No, one parent handles the sole responsibility across all species. Which parent is more involved in the incubation process highly differs from species to species.
The most common pattern is that the female does all the incubation work, in species such as the Indian robin, hummingbirds, or the Atlantic canary.
But don’t get mad at the dad though, he has his own set of responsibilities.
While the mother is busy incubating the egg, the father is engaged in foraging for food to feed the incubating bird, and also stays close by keeping a watch out for predators and other attacks.
In other birds, parents share incubation. A good example of this is the double-crested cormorants, where the parents work together on incubation, relieving each other every hour or so.
Other examples are pigeons and doves, where the work is split in half between the mother and father – the mother takes up night hours and the father takes up “working hours”, pretty similar to our 9 – 5!
There is another category here as well, called polyandrous birds, which is where the female mates with more than one male.
Here, the male is the sole incubator. These types of bird relationships are extremely rare, accounting for only 5 percent of the total population.
What Happens Inside? A Closer Look
A crucial component of incubation is the temperature the egg must be exposed to.
The egg must be exposed to an ideal temperature of 38° celsius which is slightly below the normal avian body temperature of 40° celsius.
Almost all birds achieve this ideal temperature by creating a vascularized “brood patch”, to transfer body heat.
How this works is that they create a temporarily bare part in their abdominal area by dropping or plucking them out, to enable the most efficient heat transfer.
Don’t worry, the dropped feathers are not wasted either, they are used to line the nest later on!
Moving on to inside the egg, here is where the true magic happens. Incubation enables the cluster of cells present on the surface of the yolk to differentiate and develop.
Nutrients required for the development are given in the yolk that acts as a reserve for these nutrients and the calcium required to form the bones of the chick is provided by the shell.
The yolk, which acts as a nutrient reserve during the time of development can act as a food reserve for the chick soon after hatching and is very important in cases where the bird cannot go foraging for food.
Do Birds Sit On Their Eggs All The Time?
Nope, not all the time! Based on the incubation period of the bird species, the parent bird sits on the egg to provide optimal temperature conditions by transferring their body heat through brood patches.
Once the period is complete though, the bird does not sit on it anymore, because now it is time for the baby bird to make its entrance into the world!
How Long Does It Take For A Bird To Lay Its Egg?
Compared to the incubation process, ovulation is a much shorter process. Just like in humans, the sperm, once it successfully permeates the wall of the egg, initiates the fertilization process.
The process of ovulation and laying eggs takes only about 24 hours! And so female birds can, on average, lay one egg per day.
Do Mother Birds Sleep With Their Babies In The Nest?
Once the incubation period is done and the babies hatch, the mother bird does not spend much time with them in the nest.
They only spend a few days sleeping with their babies generally.
In some cases though, when the weather is too extreme and the survival of the babies comes into question because of the low temperatures, then the mother bird cuddles up with her babies to share body heat and keep them warm.
Do Dad Birds Sit On Their Eggs?
In many birds, the parents share incubation between themselves, relieving each other within certain time periods.
In pigeons and does, as we saw above the mothers take up the night shift and the dads do the working shift.
There are cases though, rare as they are, of polyandrous birds, where the female mates with more than one male. In these cases, the male becomes the sole incubator!
Will Birds Abandon Their Eggs If Touched By Humans?
Though this is most definitely a baseless myth, it does more good than harm! The belief that touching a bird’s egg can impart a human scent on it that will then drive the parents to abandon the eggs is a complete myth.
But it does prevent people from meddling in birds’ nests and thus protects them, so let’s keep this a secret between us!
Can Birds Move Their Eggs To Another Nest?
Yes! It is crucial for birds to be able to move their eggs from one nest to another when their current nest is threatened by predators or other attackers.
The birds do this either by rolling the eggs gently along the ground as ducks do or by holding the eggs in their beaks if the distance is longer and the threat is more imminent.
That was the wonderful science and an inside look into one of nature’s many wonders, avian incubation.
It is a beautiful combination of efforts by parent birds and nature alike, and we hope this article gives you a little more insight into the process.
So the next time you see a cluster of branches and leaves in the higher levels of trees, know that these are the beautiful processes happening in them!
Thank you for reading!
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