Written by
20 March 2018

Traditionally, bird eggs are used as a symbol in celebration of Easter, symbolising new life and rebirth, and so this month we are pleased to showcase the oldest books in the ZSL Library devoted to bird eggs. Both books are published in Latin as, at that time, it was the universal language of scholarship...but, unfortunately or not, no chocolate eggs will be found between these pages.

The oldest book we hold which is solely devoted to bird eggs is Delle uova e dei nidi degli uccelli, libro primo del conte Giuseppe Zinanni…aggiunte in fine alcune osservazioni, con una dissertazione sopra varie spezie di cavallette, published by Bortoli in Venice in 1737.

Delle uova cover - Bortoli
Delle uova egg images - Bortoli


The next book by Jacobi Theodori Klein was published in 1766 in Leipzig by Kanter, and is entitled Ova avium plurimarum ad naturalem magnitudinem delineata et genuinis coloribus picta (Sammlung verschiedener Vogel Eier). The descriptive title roughly translates to The eggs of many birds drawn in life size and painted in true colors and contains the first published coloured images of eggs.

Ova Avium cover - Klein
Archives - egg books 2

The amazing and unusual egg below is decorated with a map of ZSL Whipsnade. It was presented to us by Laura Beal and the egg had formerly sat on the desk of her father, Captain W.P. Beal, the first Superintendent of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

Whipsnade map on egg - Beal

More information

For further reading, Tim R. Birkhead and A Pilastro have published an open access paper about these two books and another historic book about bird eggs: Three early books on birds’ eggs: Marsili’s Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus (1726), Zinanni’s Delle Uova e dei Nidi degli Uccelli (1737) and Klein’s Ova avium plurimarum ad naturalem magnitudinem delineata et genuinis coloribus picta (1766) in The European Zoological Journal 2018, Vol 85, No. 1. 

You can view a recording of the ZSL Science event, Why do eggs fail?, looking at hatching failure in birds, and the variation across species, populations and individuals.

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