cover image The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg

The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg

Tim Birkhead. Bloomsbury, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-63286-369-0

British ornithologist Birkhead (Bird Sense: The Wisdom of Birds) uses an inaccurate TV segment that he saw on the eggs of guillemots (the name for several species of seabird) as a reason to reinvestigate the hows and whys of guillemot eggs while explaining their popularity with enthusiasts. The eggs are “seductively beautiful—large, brightly and infinitely variable in color and pattern, and... very oddly shaped.” Collections of eggs are often considered incomplete without them. Birkhead also seizes the opportunity to examine birds’ eggs in general. He works step-by-step “from the outside of the egg towards its genetic center,” with chapters covering egg’s shape, the composition of the shell, and the coloring. Spotting and shading, for instance, help camouflage in the wild, protecting them from would-be predators. Birkhead then moves onto (or into) the albumen, or egg white—“absolutely remarkable, mysterious stuff [whose] role in the developing egg is vital”—and the yolk, before concluding with sections on laying, incubating, and hatching. This measured approach makes the overall discussion accessible. Adhering to this framework, Birkhead manages to contain what could have become an unwieldy topic, and readers with little familiarity in guillemot eggs specifically will still find the material fascinating. Agent: Felicity Bryan, Felicity Bryan Associates (U.K.). (Apr.)