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curated eggs.
Cofrin Center for Biodiversity

Historymouse over eggs to see species names. Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)  Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)

Eggs have been an important source of protein for people and wild animals. Early humans gathered eggs from nests and relied on colonial nesting birds like gulls for easily accessible and (seasonally) reliable food. We have identified shell fragments from swans and Canada Geese in refuse middens from the Mississipian civilization near La Crosse. Native Americans along Green Bay gathered each summer on the Gull Islands in the northern bay for an annual egg feast (Van Winkle, 1893). By the late 1800's commercial fishermen were gathering eggs for markets in Escanaba and other towns, where the going rate was 25 cents a dozen (Van Winkle, 1897). Gull colony eggs also were harvested for "eggine" or egg albumen, which was used for coating early photographic plates, fixing textile dyes, supplementing the diet of domestic chickens, and brewing alcoholic beverages. Such enterprises became less profitable once the region became settled and occupations switched from logging to farming in the early 1900s.

Egg collecting was very popular in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Eggs were beautiful and interesting, and collecting required only the skill to find and clean specimens. Many amateur hobbyists, as well as ornithologists, amassed large collections. Private collections were common and egg sets (clutches) were exchanged nationally and internationally, much the same way we exchange stamps and coins today. Scientific collecting of eggs probably had little effect on bird populations. However, this was also the era of commercial hunting of birds for the food and feather market, and soon biological supply houses began to sell egg sets and birds to collectors, schools, museums and the general public. Many bird populations were in trouble. Passenger Pigeons became extinct. Populations of Snowy Egrets and other colonial nesting birds had been reduced to small remnant populations. Eskimo Curlews and other large shorebirds had been decimated (Barrows, 1912).

In the United States the Lacey Act of 1900 banned interstate shipments of birds or their parts, and later the Weeks-Mclean Act of 1913 gave custody and protection of birds to the US Federal Government. In 1918 the first Migratory Bird Treaty between the US, Great Britain, and Canada prohibited the taking of nests and eggs of all migratory birds, except for scientific purposes. Later, similar treaties were signed with Mexico, Japan and Russia. Other countries have followed suit and now most birds are protected in many parts of the world. The lasting effect of this legislation is enjoyed by birdwatchers and nature lovers today. Today collecting of non-game birds in the United States requires state and federal permits and is limited to very specific research projects. Possession of any feathers, eggs, nests, birds or parts of birds requires permits or a license if the bird is considered a game species. Amateur egg collecting has been replaced by other pursuits, such as bird watching, listing, song recording, and photography.