What Do Birds Do With Unhatched Eggs?

Birds go to great lengths to incubate their eggs and raise their young. But sometimes, not every egg in a nest will hatch. If you’ve ever wondered what happens to unhatched eggs, you’re not alone. Read on as we explore the fate of unhatched eggs and what birds do with them.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Birds typically remove unhatched eggs from the nest and discard them away from the nesting area. This helps keep the nest clean for the hatched chicks.

Why Some Eggs Don’t Hatch

While many bird eggs successfully hatch into adorable chicks, there are instances where eggs don’t hatch. Understanding the reasons behind this phenomenon can provide insights into the unique reproductive strategies of birds.

Infertile or Damaged Eggs

One common reason for eggs not hatching is that they may be infertile or damaged. In some cases, a female bird may lay an egg without having had the opportunity to mate with a male. These infertile eggs will not develop into chicks.

Additionally, eggs can become damaged during the laying process or due to environmental factors, such as extreme temperatures or predator attacks. Damaged eggs are unlikely to hatch successfully.

Embryo Death

Another reason for unhatched eggs is embryo death. After fertilization, the embryo starts to develop within the egg. However, sometimes the embryo may die due to genetic abnormalities, poor nutrition, or other factors. This can result in the egg failing to hatch.

Embryo death can occur at any stage of development, from early stages to just before hatching.

Hatching Issues

In some cases, eggs may not hatch due to hatching issues. The process of hatching is a complex one, and sometimes things can go wrong. For example, the chick may struggle to break through the shell due to weak muscles or an underdeveloped beak.

Additionally, the humidity levels inside the nest may not be suitable for proper eggshell moisture, making it difficult for the chick to hatch. These hatching issues can prevent eggs from successfully hatching.

It’s important to note that not all unhatched eggs are cause for concern. Some bird species, such as those that lay multiple eggs in a clutch, may have a few eggs that don’t hatch as a natural part of their reproductive strategy.

These “spare” eggs can serve as backups in case something goes wrong with the hatched chicks.

If you’re interested in learning more about bird reproduction and the fascinating world of avian biology, check out reputable websites like Audubon or Cornell Lab of Ornithology. They provide valuable information and resources on birds and their nesting behaviors.

How Birds Deal with Unhatched Eggs

When it comes to unhatched eggs, birds have different ways of dealing with them depending on the species and their individual circumstances. Here are some common strategies that birds employ:

Removing Unhatched Eggs

Some bird species, such as pigeons and doves, are known to remove unhatched eggs from their nests. This behavior is believed to serve multiple purposes. By removing the unhatched eggs, the parents can allocate their energy and resources towards caring for the remaining viable eggs or newly hatched chicks.

Additionally, removing the unhatched eggs helps to maintain the cleanliness of the nest, reducing the risk of disease or parasites.

Eating Unhatched Eggs

Another strategy that some bird species use is consuming the unhatched eggs. This may seem surprising, but it actually serves a purpose. By consuming the unhatched eggs, birds can recover some of the nutrients and energy that went into producing the eggs.

This can be particularly beneficial during times when food sources are scarce. Some birds, such as gulls and crows, have even been observed cracking open unhatched eggs with their beaks to access the contents inside.

Abandoning the Entire Nest

In certain situations, birds may choose to abandon their entire nest, including the unhatched eggs. This can occur when the conditions in the environment become unfavorable or when the nest has been compromised by predators or other threats.

By abandoning the nest, the birds can prioritize their own survival and potentially try again with a new nest in a safer location.

It’s important to note that not all bird species exhibit the same behaviors when it comes to dealing with unhatched eggs. Each species has evolved its own unique strategies based on their specific needs and environmental factors.

To learn more about bird behavior and nesting habits, you can visit reputable websites such as Audubon or All About Birds.

When Unhatched Eggs Are Left in the Nest

Birds are fascinating creatures, and their behaviors often leave us wondering. One such behavior is what they do with unhatched eggs. When a bird’s nest contains unhatched eggs, there are several possibilities for what might happen next.

Delayed Hatching

One common occurrence with unhatched eggs is delayed hatching. Some bird species have the ability to delay the hatching of their eggs to ensure that all the chicks hatch around the same time. This can be advantageous for the parents, as it allows them to focus their attention on all the chicks simultaneously, ensuring their survival.

Delayed hatching also helps to prevent conflicts between older and younger siblings, reducing the chances of aggression or competition within the nest.

For example, the American Robin is known to delay the hatching of their eggs. The female robin will wait until all the eggs are laid before beginning incubation. This delays the development of the embryos, ensuring that they all hatch within a day or two of each other.

Serving as Practice Eggs

Another interesting possibility is that unhatched eggs can serve as practice eggs for first-time parents. Just like humans, birds can be inexperienced when it comes to raising offspring. In such cases, unhatched eggs can provide an opportunity for the parents to practice incubation and nesting skills without the added responsibility of caring for a live chick.

This behavior has been observed in some species of penguins. When a pair of penguins lays an infertile or non-viable egg, they will take turns incubating it as if it were a real egg. This practice helps them develop the necessary skills for when they have viable eggs in the future.

It’s important to note that not all bird species exhibit these behaviors. Each species has its own unique strategies for dealing with unhatched eggs, depending on their specific needs and circumstances.

For more information about bird behaviors and nesting habits, you can visit Audubon or All About Birds.

Preventing Unhatched Eggs

When it comes to unhatched eggs, birds have developed various strategies to ensure the successful hatching of their offspring. These strategies revolve around providing proper nesting conditions, adequate nutrition, and limiting predators and threats.

Proper Nesting Conditions

Birds understand the importance of creating a suitable environment for their eggs. They carefully select the location of their nests, taking into consideration factors such as temperature, humidity, and protection from external elements.

By choosing a secure and well-insulated nesting site, birds can minimize the risk of unhatched eggs due to unfavorable conditions.

For example, many bird species build their nests in tree cavities or use materials like twigs, leaves, and feathers to create a cozy and insulated nest. This helps regulate the temperature and humidity levels, creating an optimal environment for the eggs to develop and hatch successfully.

Adequate Nutrition

Another crucial aspect in preventing unhatched eggs is providing an adequate and balanced diet. Birds need a rich supply of nutrients, including proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, to support the development of their eggs.

A healthy diet ensures that the eggs receive all the necessary nutrients for proper growth.

Birds have evolved different feeding strategies to obtain the required nutrition. Some species are opportunistic feeders, consuming a wide variety of foods, while others have specialized diets, such as nectar-feeding hummingbirds or fish-eating ospreys.

By adapting their feeding habits to their specific dietary needs, birds increase the chances of hatching healthy eggs.

Limiting Predators and Threats

Predators pose a significant threat to unhatched eggs, and birds have developed various defense mechanisms to protect their offspring. They employ strategies such as camouflage, nest concealment, and aggressive behavior to deter potential predators.

For instance, some bird species have evolved to lay cryptically colored eggs that blend in with their surroundings, making them less visible to predators. Others build their nests in hidden locations or use materials that match their habitat, further concealing the eggs from potential threats.

In addition to camouflage, birds may exhibit aggressive behavior towards predators that venture too close to their nests. They may dive-bomb or emit warning calls to scare away potential threats. By actively defending their nests, birds can reduce the risk of unhatched eggs due to predation.


Though heartbreaking for bird watchers, unhatched eggs are a natural part of the avian reproductive cycle. Parents must make difficult decisions to ensure the best chance of survival for their viable offspring.

With proper habitat, care, and minimal disruptions, birds can hatch a higher percentage of laid eggs. But even under the best conditions, some eggs will fail to develop or hatch due to natural variability.

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