Photo © Keith Williams
Photo © Carrol Henderson

Oology & Ralph’s Talking Eggs

Oology is the study of bird eggs, and it has a fascinating history in the United States. In Oology and Ralph’s Talking Eggs, author Carrol Henderson describes the history of one private egg collection, and situates it within the context of the larger field of study. The book tells the story of Iowa farmer Ralph Handsaker, an amateur oologist. As the author documents the massive collection for a museum, stories are revealed about each of the 800 egg sets.

In a period when the credibility of a bird enthusiast was judged by the size of his egg collection and the number of rarities it contained, the book is at times poignant (e.g., the collection of Iowa’s last Marbled Godwit nest). However, some might call egg collecting the origins of modern bird watching, as it marked a transition from commercial interest to naturalist pursuit. Others might go so far as to deem it a precursor to citizen science, as most collections ended up in museums where they contributed to research. One thing is certain: every egg has a story to tell, and this book will have NestWatchers listening.

Donate an old egg collection!
If, like Ralph’s descendants, you find yourself with an old egg collection, consider donating it to a local museum or university, or inquire whether Cornell University’s Museum of Vertebrates can accept your collection. Although egg sets have no value on eBay (it’s illegal to sell birds, their eggs, or nests), the value of a collection is priceless to a museum.