- Not Exactly Rocket Science
The Bird That Paints Its Eggs With Bacteria
It’s spring. A female hoopoe—a bird that looks like a pickaxe painted in a tiger’s colours—lays her eggs in a hole within a tree. The eggs come out milky blue, but they soon change colour to a mucky brown. That’s not just because the nests are dirty, as Wikipedia currently claims. It’s also because of a liquid that the female produces.
Look under the tail feathers of any bird and you’ll find the uropygial gland, or preen gland. It secretes oils and waxes that birds use to clean and waterproof their feathers. But during breeding season, a female hoopoe’s uropygial gland becomes exceptionally large, and it makes a weird dark brown fluid that smells of rotting meat. This is