It is not uncommon to stumble upon a robin's egg lying on the ground. Well-meaning people often try to place the egg in a nearby nest or bring the egg home in hopes of hatching it themselves. It is, however, important to understand the laws governing migratory birds and their eggs, as set forth by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
A common mistake people make who find a bird egg on the ground is the assumption that it is not there purposefully. Many types of birds are ground-nesters. These birds, such as the killdeer, lay eggs in small depressions on the ground with no identifiable nest. The killdeer has even been known to lay eggs directly on the asphalt of a parking lot. Robin eggs have a distinct blue color that is commonly referred to as eggshell blue. They are sometimes confused with the eggs of the eastern bluebird, which have a similar color but are smaller in size. If the egg does indeed belong to a robin, it may be that the robin discarded the egg because of some defect or because it was not fertilized. In both of these instances the egg should be left alone.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 states that it is illegal for anyone to possess a protected bird, its nest, its eggs or its feathers without first obtaining the required federal and state licenses. This includes eggs that may have accidentally fallen from a nest or have been separated from the mother. Good intentions are not an exception to the law, so always leave the egg untouched in the exact position you found it. If the egg was moved, immediately return it to the original location. If this is not possible, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Bird Management.
The hatching and caring process for a baby robin is extremely complex and time intensive. The mother bird or caretaker must keep the egg between 90 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit at all times and turn the egg three times each day to prevent the yolk from settling on the bottom of the egg and crushing the embryo. Once hatched, the baby birds are fed by hand every few hours for several weeks, followed by a several week process of reintroduction to the wild. The process is so time intensive and precarious that most baby birds in this situation eventually die.
If found to be in possession of a protected bird, its nest, its eggs or its feathers, you may be subject to fines of up to $500 and/or up to 6 months in jail, for each offense. Sympathetic juries often find people not guilty in response to their obvious good intentions, but defense and court costs still require payment.
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