What is a smart egg?

What is a smart egg?

The Oregon Zoo and researchers at the San Jose State University of California, in the United States, used a smart egg to learn more about the nesting behaviour of the California Condor. The California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is a large accipiter, bird of prey, in the Cathartidae family. Native to North America, it is critically endangered. 

Zoologists placed a smart egg – a dummy egg – into the nest of a pair of nesting California Condors during the spring of 2023. It was a single, enormous egg.

Dr. Constance Woodman (left) and Sean Michael Ragan. Source: Dr. Woodman

The male and female Condors took turns to sit on the egg to incubate it (to keep it warm until it hatched). They would also rotate the egg, a natural behaviour to ensure development. They did not know that the smart egg was a false egg.

So, what is a smart egg? It is a high-tech device with a hard, plastic shell stuffed with sensors to monitor the temperature, egg-rotations, sounds and conditions of the nest, and the behaviour of the birds. The egg size and colour looked almost exactly like a real Condor egg. 

Dr. Constance Woodman, a bird scientist at the Texas A&M University, made the smart egg. The eggshell had to be thin enough for the sensors to pick up sounds and movements and strong enough to withstand falling out of the nest. Sometimes, bird parents throw out an egg from the nest if they think it is not theirs, or if they think it is not healthy. The plastic eggshell was made from a 3-D printer, which took 13 hours to print. 

What did the zoologists do with the real egg? Kelli Walker, the Condor keeper at the Oregon Zoo, and Dr. Scott Shaffer, an animal ecologist and bird scientist at the San Jose State University of California took the real egg to the animal nursery at the zoo and put it in an incubator until it hatched. Then they swapped the smart egg with the real chick so that the Condor pair could raise their healthy baby chick by themselves. Dr. Shaffer said that the smart egg was a really cool use of technology, wrote the New York Times in June 2023.

Photo: Dr. Constance Woodman
California Condor. Photo by Chuck Szmurlo, 2006, San Diego Wild Animal Park

Photographer: Dr Constance Woodman and Chuck Szmurlo 


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