Eggs are highly nutritious so it would seem sensible to think about adding them to your list when foraging for food or eating in an emergency situation. There’s just one problem with eating wild bird eggs, however, and that’s the fact that many bird species are protected by federal law, and taking the eggs not only carries a hefty fine, but also a possible prison sentence.
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Can You Take Wild Bird Eggs to Eat?
Once upon a time, collecting the eggs of wild birds as a food source was commonplace but today the Migratory Birds Act prevents the practice for many native American bird species.
There are plenty of other non-migratory, introduced birds also living in the US, but there may well be laws preventing you from taking their eggs too. To find out for sure you’ll have to check at all levels, local, county, state, and federal.
The same is also true in many other parts of the world, so before you decide to go out foraging for eggs, check to see you’re staying inside of the law.
Are all Bird Eggs Edible?
Actually no, not all bird eggs should be eaten due to some birds being toxic. These birds include ones that eat insects causing the birds skin, feathers, and dander to contain the same chemical found in poison dart frogs, Batrachotoxinin-A or BTX:
- Hooded Pitohui – from New Guinea.
- Northern Variable Pitohui – from New Guinea.
- Blue Capped Ifrita – From New Guinea.
- Little Shrikethrush – from Australia.
Because these birds all sit on their eggs, even touching them would probably be a bad idea.
Other toxic birds include:
- Red Warbler – from Mexico
- Spur-winged Goose – from Sub-Saharan Africa
What Kind of Bird Eggs Can You Eat?
Besides chicken, there are plenty of other bird eggs that are good to eat. The following eggs can be found in north America as well as many other parts of the world:
In Australia or Africa you can add a couple more to the list:
Eggs are highly nutritious and provide lots of calories, but taking eggs from wild birds’ nests may not only be illegal but could also be potentially dangerous due to the birds guarding them. Geese are ferocious when it comes to fighting you or other potential predators off.
If you do take eggs from a nest, never take them all. Leave the majority in place giving them a chance to be incubated. The most likely time of year to find eggs is in spring or early summer.
Is it Safe to Eat Wild Eggs?
Other than the eggs we discussed in “are all bird eggs edible” above, then generally yes, eating wild eggs is safe provided they are cooked.
Eggs can be eaten at any stage of embryo development so long as you have the stomach for it. If, like me, you’re not ecstatic at the thought of eating a partially developed chick, you can candle the egg first to check what’s happening inside.
To candle an egg you need a bright light such as a torch, or the light on your cell phone will work at a pinch. Then you need to be someplace that’s completely dark, the less light the better.
Hold the egg so that the pointed end is facing up and the rounded end is down. Place your light source directly under the egg, touching it. By moving the egg around you can actually see what’s going on inside.
A fresh egg appears clear and you’ll just be able to see the yolk as a slightly darker patch moving freely about. As the egg develops you’ll start to see blood vessels and then the dark black shadow of the embryo itself. If the egg looks dark all the way through, then the chick is well developed inside.
Candling won’t work on eggs that have very dark color shells, or ones that are particularly thick.
If you’re unsure of how old an egg that has no sign of embryo development is, then you can float it. Just take a bowl of water about twice as deep as the egg is high and place the egg into the water.
If it stays resting on the bottom it is fresh, if it stands up but stays with the one end on the bottom it is still good to eat, but if it floats up in the water then it’s old and shouldn’t be eaten.
In this video, you can see how to float eggs:
It’s better to break each egg separately into a cup before pouring it into the pan for cooking, particulalry if you’re unsure how fresh it is. Old eggs have a dry-looking skin to the yolk and can smell really bad, so by using a cup you’ll not contaminate all your eggs by mistake.
To cook the eggs you can boil, poach, fry, scramble, or omelet them. Raw eggs are best avoided due to the risk of salmonella poisoning and other bacterial issues.
Besides bird eggs, there are plenty of other types of eggs you could also use as a tasty meal, many of which are not protected by law. Reptile and fish eggs are other good choices, remember though that turtle eggs, particularly ones belonging to sea turtles are strictly prohibited.
Snake eggs can be found under rocks and logs, but be aware that some species of snake will protect their eggs. Fish may be a slightly less dangerous choice and catching a fish, filled with roe, is a double bonus as obviously, you can eat the fish too.
Many Native Americans eat fish eggs as a stable part of their diet. The eggs can be prepared in a number of different ways such as drying, curing, or turning into caviar, and then there is fermenting, which personally I really don’t recommend, as it’s basically just controlled rotting.
Remember, many species of birds are protected and that includes their eggs. Taking them could land you with a hefty fine and even behind bars in jail.
Always ensure any eggs you take are removed legally, and never take all the eggs from a clutch if there is a good chance the ones you leave will continue to be incubated.
There are very few bird species in the world whose eggs may be toxic, but any eggs can carry bacteria and it is always safest to cook them prior to consumption.
Eggs are nutritious and delicious!
If you’d like to learn more about foraging wild foods, take a look at other articles we have available on our site – here is one about pawpaw trees. Happy reading!