What is Oology?
Oology is the study of eggs. For thousands of years people have collected
eggs for food. The eggs that we now eat are mostly from domesticated
birds. Before the 1900's however, people could eat wild bird eggs in
Egg collecting has been practiced for centuries. In the Middle Ages, people hung eggshells in their homes for decoration. In the 1700's, eggs became popular collector's items. Many people now decorate eggs at Easter.
In the 1800's people began to collect eggs for scientific purposes. The variation in
shape, colour and texture inspired many people to take to the nests.
These naturalists devoted vast amounts of time and effort to their hobby.
Upon finding a nest, they would record detailed notes on the date, location, species and number of eggs in the nest.
The records made by these naturalists have been useful to scientists.
Using these notes, researchers have been able to map the breeding distributions
of most species.
Egg Collecting and Endangered Birds
There are many reasons why some birds have become endangered. In the late 1800's, birds were killed for women's fashion. Feathers and even entire birds were commonly mounted on women's hats and dresses. In Birds and Men, a woman is said to have walked into "...the reception room with a dress decorated with patches of three thousand Brazilian Hummingbirds!" (Welker, R. H. 1955. Birds and Men. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, 230 pp.).
In the middle of this century, we used toxins like DDT to kill insects. These toxins have also been responsible for killing birds as they interfere with the successful reproduction of many species. Human population pressures also impact birds. The more habitat that we occupy with homes or farms or industries, the less habitat that is available for other animals.
Hunting and egg collecting, when taken to extreme levels, are detrimental to bird numbers. Disturbing birds while they are incubating, may have grave consequences for the eggs. Parents may leave the nest for good or simply stop incubating. As well, a collector's tracks may lead predators to a nest site they would not have noticed.
Osprey became endangered in Europe partly due to egg collecting. Arthur Cleveland Bent writes,
"The eggs of the osprey are the handsomest of all the hawks' eggs; they show considerablevariation, and the coloring is very rich; a selected series of them is a great addition to an egg collector's cabinet. I shall never forget my envious enthusiasm when a rival boy collector showed me the first fish hawk's eggs I had ever seen. Nor could I forget the peculiar pungent odor that clings to these eggs after many years in the cabinet, a fragrant reminder of many hard climbs." (Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey Part One, Dover Publications, Inc., New York).
Birds and their eggs are now protected under the International Migratory Bird Convention and provincial wildlife statutes.
Oology in Alberta
One of the world's most important contributors to the science of Oology was from Alberta. Archibald Henderson lived northwest of Edmonton in the town of Belvedere. He wrote 48 research papers between the years 1915 and 1941. The papers were published in both oological and ornithological (bird) journals.
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