Oology. Now theres a dirty word. If you listen to some self-appointed police men of birding it relates to criminals. You can though with an open mind google the word and you will find this –
Oology (or oölogy) is a branch of ornithology studying birdeggs, nests and breeding behaviour. The word is derived from the Greek “oion”, meaning egg. Oology can also refer to the hobby of collecting wild birds’ eggs, sometimes called egg collecting, birdnesting or egging, which is now illegal in many jurisdictions.
Of course their is reference to egg collecting but back in the day those involved did it and there was a need for it. Just like in the past their was a need to shoot a bird to identify it, it was the only way. However science moves on and decent optics and cameras moved to replace the gun and the drill. Most egg collectors are now deceased or the few that are left are part of the dying breed which do not threaten significantly any population of birds here in the UK (caveat on that would perhaps be one off breeders).
We are still illegally shooting birds of prey here and in many European countries they are still doing the very same to many species of birds.
My stance on egg collecting was quite clearly laid out within the ‘about me’ page of this blog so I won’t cover it again here. You can read it here – CLICK HERE
Being a ’21st century oologist’ is fraught with problems in the general birding world with the ignorance of persons not able to see the positives in it. The more modern term for it now would be nest finding, indeed the BTO promote this study to the full and have published a book that assists in the finding of all but the schedule 1 species. Here is a previous blog on nest recording you can read it here – CLICK HERE
That being said I believe a lot can be learned from studying the eggs of birds and the process of bringing the nest to account can also reveal many important aspects of breeding bird biology. More is learnt by following the nest through to the outcome and if ringers are involved again more data can be collected from ringing.
A challenge awaits, but read on…
The below photograph is from 2 different 1st clutch Woodlark nests in Devon. Woodlark in Devon breed in crop fields. The top 2 pictures being from a nest in 2016 the bottom 2 from last year, 2017.
Both nests were found within 30 metres of each other. Now Woodlark in these fields over the last 4 years have shown preferences to certain areas of the field however they do move around. Although not as variable as some species Woodlark do show variations in the eggs and it is possible to assign certain females but not as easy as it is to see in species like Tree Pipit and Chaffinch.
The close proximity to last years nest is another factor that weighs in favour of a returning female with these 2 nests. The other clue is in nest construction. Both these nests use considerable amounts of moss. Moss within Woodlark is not unusual but in Devon it appears to be very unique, certainly to the degree it is in use within these nests.
I believe here we can reliably say this is a returning female. The facts I believe show this are that the eggs of this female are ‘capped’ and quite heavily so. The nest construction is very similar with both nests containing considerable amounts of moss and finally the nest locations are very close together .
Note we haven’t used colour rings to ascertain this info!
So below is the challenge. Armed with the above knowledge see if you can work it out –
Again in the picture below 2 Woodlark nests from 2016 and 2017 are pictured below as well as the locations of the nests
These nests below were found very close together, c20 metres away from each other. Both egg types again appear to be very similar. But note the nest construction this time. The nest from 2016 has plenty of moss. The nest from 2017 though is almost completely absent of moss though and it is tiny in comparison.
So what do you think? Same female? Looks good for it. But if it is the same bird why has it not used moss like the year before? Moss was present in the fields that year as it was used in our earlier example from the same year and that nest was within the same field complex, although a considerable distance away. If it is a returning female from 2016 why has she chosen to admit moss from the 2017 nest? Could it be a different female though? Why no moss? Is it because this female was perhaps raised within a nest without moss? So many questions… A close up of the eggs is at the bottom.
What do you think the answer is? Please leave a comment on the twitter account or comment below. I would be very interested to hear your view on it… My view is further down the page but have a go, mine may well not be right!
There we go a sample of ‘oology’ – more than just stealing eggs and hanging out with criminals at Jourdain Society dinners… *sarcasm*
Just a note on the above paragraph. Those that did attend (not me I was too young) would know that this society held some of the greatest nest finders and students of breeding bird biology but not all were collectors! That is the propaganda peddled… The bulletin of this society for any modern day nest finder is an immense informative collection of works and one that any person with an open mind and interested in breeding bird biology would benefit from reading. I have read many volumes so far and find them fascinating.
So here are my thoughts on the above –
The bird is a different female in my opinion. My logic behind this? Firstly for me the nest is too different in construction. The eggs are very similar but, if you study them close enough I think you can see that one set is zoned i.e a ring around the broad end whist the other are more capped i.e minus the ring but the markings are heaviest at the bottom. See this side by side comparison. Very subtle and could be within the limits of same females markings, but the nest construction along with the differences in eggs makes me feel its a different female. A closer look at the eggs
I could well be wrong. What would prove this beyond doubt I think would be a colour ringing project. This is a small isolated population in very different habitat to the majority of breeding Woodlark. Surely worth a go by a ringer. I would love to know for sure… The whole picture.
Whats clear is that this study alone is not enough and without having the specimens to study and inspect at close range we cannot be sure but you may agree that oology has a place in ornithology – its not just about eggs, its the whole thing and its certainly not about taking eggs (these days)… Hopefully by reading this blog, the posts and the twitter account you can see this. Tired of fighting the anti brigade over the last year. Thank you all for the support and interest you all have shown over the last couple of years. We will continue.