Choosing Camouflage

How smart are ground-nesting birds when it comes to hiding their eggs?

Scottish scientists report that Japanese quail are so smart they choose to lay their eggs where they'll be best camouflaged.

Japanese quail are raised for meat and eggs so people already know they have highly variable eggshells.  Some females lay dark spotted eggs, others lay pale plain ones.  The eggs vary from female to female but the patterns are consistent for a given individual. (Click here to see a wide selection of egg patterns.)

To test whether the female birds were making camouflage decisions, scientists gave them a selection of four backgrounds on which to lay their eggs.

Females with spotty eggs chose backgrounds that matched the spots and hid their eggs in a disruptive pattern.  Females with plain pale eggs chose light backgrounds so their eggs blended in.

According to P. George Lovell of Abertay University and the University of St Andrews  "In this specific case, birds know what their eggs look like and can make laying choices that will minimize predation."

But I wonder... Until a quail lays her first egg, how does she know what it will look like?  Can she plan for camouflage before she sees it?

Click here to read more about this study in Science Daily.

Photo of Japanese quail by K.Lin via Flickr account Hiyashi Haka, Creative Commons license. Photo of quail eggs from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals. )

One thought on “Choosing Camouflage

  1. This is so interesting. I share your curiosity about how the hens know what their eggs will look like. Think it is hard wired?

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