MV Blog


The colour of birds' eggs

by Nicole K
Publish date
19 March 2012
Comments (8)

Your Question: Why are bird eggs so variable in their colours and patterns?

The colour and colour pattern of bird eggs vary enormously from species to species (and often between individuals of the same species, and sometimes between the eggs of the same mother).

  A tray of eggs from Museum Victoria's H.L White egg collection, showing the diversity of patterns and colours for a single species, the Australian Magpie <i>Gymnorhina tibicen</i>. A tray of eggs from Museum Victoria's H.L White egg collection, showing the diversity of patterns and colours for a single species, the Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen.
Image: Michelle McFarlane
Source: Museum Victoria

Eggs are made of calcium carbonate, which is white. White is therefore the default colour for bird eggs, but many birds lay coloured or colourfully-patterned eggs. Why?

The colouration of bird eggs can often be explained by the animal's biology and behaviour. The eggs of ground-nesting birds, for example, need to be well-camouflaged to avoid discovery by predators. They are usually coloured and patterned to match the substrate they are laid upon.

The highly-camouflaged eggs of the American Golden Plover <i>Pluvialis dominica</i>, which nests on the ground. The highly-camouflaged eggs of the American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica, which nests on the ground.
Image: MeegsC
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tree-nesters, on the other hand, usually have blue or green eggs.

American Robin <i>Turdus migratorius</i> eggs in nest The American Robin, Turdus migratorius, which nests in trees, lays bright blue eggs.
Image: Laslovarga
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Birds whose eggs are hidden from view (in hollows, burrows or deep nests), or who sit on their eggs continuously throughout incubation, tend to have white eggs.

  The now extinct Paradise Parrot <i> Psephotus pulcherrimus</i>, which laid its eggs in termite mounds, had white, unpatterned eggs. The now extinct Paradise Parrot Psephotus pulcherrimus, which laid its eggs in termite mounds, had white, unpatterned eggs.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

The patterns on eggs have developed over eons via natural selection – the better the camouflage, the more likely the eggs are to survive and pass on the genes for well-camouflaged eggs to the next generation. Ornithologists have classified egg patterns and given each "style" a name in order to distinguish them: splashed, blotched, spotted, dotted, marbled, streaked, scrawled, overlaid, capped, and wreathed.

Eggs from Museum Victoria's Ornithology Collection Eggs from Museum Victoria's Ornithology Collection
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria

Colour also provides another form of protection: it is thought to act as a sunscreen, protecting the developing foetus from UV light. The addition of colour also strengthens the eggshell. Birds that are calcium-deficient lay thin-shelled eggs, which are more likely to break. Scientists have found that birds that have multiple clutches in a single season have more highly-coloured eggs in the second and subsequent clutches (when the mother's calcium supplies are reduced). Patterned colouration is also more common in areas with calcium-deficient soils.

The specific colours are incorporated into the shell in the final stage of egg development. Blue and green colour comes from a pigment called biliverdin (which is the same pigment that causes green bruises in humans). In egg colouration, biliverdin comes from bile; the red and brown colour on eggs comes from protoporphyrins, which comes from blood.

The Red-vented Bulbul <i>Pycnonotus cafer</i> lays red eggs. The Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer lays red eggs.
Image: J. M. Garg
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Australia's native birds are protected. It is illegal to collect eggs or to interfere with birds' nests without a permit. Details of regulations and permits can be obtained from the Department of Sustainability and Environment.


Museum Victoria's Ornithology Collection

H.L. White Collection of Australian Birds’ Eggs

The evolution of egg colour and patterning in birds

Australian Magpie Eggs

Port Phillip Taxonomic Toolkit

by Blair
Publish date
15 March 2012
Comments (5)

Hey check out – the new Port Phillip Taxonomic Toolkit website we launched this week! It's a joint initiative between the Department of Sustainability and Environment, and us at the museum.

Juvenile Scalyfin, jellyfish and biscuit stars in Port Phillip Bay. Left to right: Juvenile Scalyfin, jellyfish and biscuit stars in Port Phillip Bay.
Image: Julian Finn | Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria

There is a spectacular gallery of over 2,000 photographs that make it the site to surf if you don't want to get wet this dive season. And if you do get wet, then it's the one place to learn about the cool stuff you've seen underwater.

Have a click around and find your favourite pretty fin or an awesome octopus!

albatross, isopod and Moray Eel from Port Phillip Bay. Left to right: albatross, isopod and moray eel from Port Phillip Bay.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria

The site has 1,001 species from Port Phillip Bay with more to come in 2012. There are frowning faces of stargazers to picture-perfect blue devils, fish that walk instead of swim, cannibalistic sea cucumbers, and seahorses that eat lunch like sucking a hotdog out of a roll. They're all part of our truly amazing local marine life.

The Port Phillip Taxonomic Toolkit is primarily an identification and information resource for scientists and marine enthusiasts, but the images provide some fun and education for all audiences. There are also interactive menus to identify selected species as well as descriptions of characters that make the animals unique.

The project is funded by the Department of Sustainability and Environment's Seagrass and Reefs Program for Port Phillip Bay and will be completed later this year.

Sweets festival and exhibition

by Elise Murphy
Publish date
14 March 2012
Comments (0)

Sweet talker Elise Murphy is working with Emily Kocaj to organise the Sweets festival and exhibition. Elise is responsible for community festivals at the Immigration Museum and has a very sweet tooth.

There is only one day to go before the Sweets: tastes and traditions from many cultures exhibition opens and five days until the Sweets Festival takes place at the Immigration Museum.

The team have been very busy installing the exhibition over the past two weeks and it is looking fantastic. Each of the communities represented – Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mauritian and Turkish – have a display showcasing their beautiful cooking implements and serving objects. Delicate Turkish coffee cups with intricate designs sit alongside Italian marzipan fruits and elegant Japanese models of wagashi, which would convince anyone that they were the real thing!

Sweets exhibition installation A showcase from the Sweets: tastes and traditions from many cultures exhibition.
Image: Emily Kocaj
Source: Museum Victoria

Final touches are being put to the recipe wall, featuring home-made recipes created by the communities. You'll be able to jot down the ingredients for a syrupy, nutty baklava and learn how to make boondi ladoos, a favourite Indian sweet of Lord Ganesha. We've left space for you to leave some of your own favourite sweets recipes too.

It has been wonderful seeing the exhibition and festival come together over the last couple of weeks and to see all the ideas generated with the communities come to life. We hope that you will feel inspired to cook some recipes or sample a sweet at the Melbourne establishments that specialise in them – many of which you will find at the Sweets Festival this Sunday.

On festival day, we advise skipping breakfast to tuck straight into a mouth-watering array of sweet (and savoury) confections – from bites of nougat and tastings of sour cherry sherbet to baklava available by the piece or the half kilo. Enjoy plenty of other tempting performances, cooking demonstrations and workshops that will get your tastebuds dancing.

Do you really need another excuse to come along and immerse yourself in whole new realms of sweetness?

We'll give you a whole table full!

Sweet treats from five cultures Sweet treats from the five participating communities.
Image: Dylan Kelly
Source: Museum Victoria

Scienceworks exhibits at RCH

by Damien Currie
Publish date
13 March 2012
Comments (1)

This guest post is by Damien Currie, Monash University Journalism student and Public Relations Intern with Museum Victoria.

Fifteen Scienceworks displays can be found inside Melbourne's new Royal Children's Hospital, acting as a distraction for sick kids needing medical care.

child playing with exhibit Child playing with Scienceworks exhibit at the Royal Children's Hospital.
Image: Damien Currie
Source: Damien Currie

Andrew Lewis, Manager of Exhibitions at Scienceworks, led the team who designed and constructed the displays that are scattered around the hospital.

"The majority of ideas are typical Science Centre exhibits, albeit adapted to suit their intended environment. Not having to adhere to any specific theme broadened the list of possibilities," said Andrew.

Childplaying with Scienceworks exhibit Child playing with Scienceworks exhibit at the Royal Children's Hospital.
Image: Damien Currie
Source: Damien Currie

Christine Kilpatrick, CEO of the Royal Children's Hospital, said they were delighted at the opportunity to work with the team at Scienceworks.

"In our new hospital, we have created an environment that reflects the unique nature of a children's hospital. Art, nature and learning are reflected throughout recognising the importance of all these to the healing process. We recognise that despite being in hospital, children are still actively learning and developing," she said.

"The Scienceworks interactive learning displays support this philosophy and invite children to explore, engage and learn in the hospital environment. They are not only a welcome distraction, but challenge children to think and solve problems in a fun and surprising way."

Children playing with Scienceworks exhibit Children playing with Scienceworks exhibit at the Royal Children's Hospital.
Image: Damien Currie
Source: Damien Currie

The brief given for the designs of the 15 exhibits was quite specific, as they needed to be educational as well as entertaining while being durable and accessible to a wide window of ages.

"The biggest constraints were the tight budget and selecting concepts that provided repeat and ongoing appeal for children who may be required to attend the hospital for extended periods," said Andrew.

Where possible, the displays are wheelchair friendly and able to be used simultaneously by two or more kids. They also needed to not be mechanical or powered by electricity or batteries and be able to be moved with ease so they can be rotated around the hospital to remain fresh and exciting to patients.

The original idea for the project was secured in late 2006 when Scienceworks agreed to participate as a Community Partner to the new hospital project, along with other institutions such as the Melbourne Zoo and the Melbourne Aquarium.

Locating living people

by Nicole D
Publish date
11 March 2012
Comments (4)

Your Question: I am trying to trace my aunt and uncle and their children or any of their living relatives. They migrated to Australia after World War II in the 1940s or early 1950s. How would I go about finding them?

Locating living people is a question we often get and, although it can be very difficult, there are a number of resources that might help you to find them:

• For those that immigrated here in the mid 20th century, the first step would be to order their immigration records, which are held by the National Archives of Australia (NAA). This will give you information about their immigration and may give some indication of where they went when they arrived in Australia. These documents might then allow you to know where to search for further information in electoral rolls, public registries and other resources

The National Archives website has online indexes, which feature a percentage of records in their collection. A step by step guide to using these indexes and ordering documents can be found on our Quick guide to passenger lists infosheet.

Newly Arrived Migrant Family Standing Near Temporary Accommodation, Ringwood East, 1955 Newly Arrived Migrant Family Standing Near Temporary Accommodation, Ringwood East, 1955
Image: unknown photographer
Source: Museum Victoria

• Electoral rolls list all the names and addresses of registered voters within Australia. The State Library of Victoria Genealogy Centre holds archived as well as current electoral rolls dating from 1856 until the present. For more information about accessing electoral rolls contact the State Library of Victoria Genealogy Centre or the Victorian Electoral Commission.

• Copies of Birth Deaths and Marriages certificates may reveal useful personal information and allow you to trace your relative’s descendents. Births, deaths and marriage registries are run by different government departments in each state and some have a limited amount of information in online indexes.

• A simple search of the telephone directories may reveal the location of relatives. The White Pages is available online or you may wish to peruse hardcopies, which are often available at state, and sometimes local, libraries.

Man, Woman & Two Girls, Backyard, Ukrainian Christmas Day, Newport, 1951 Man, Woman & Two Girls, Backyard, Ukrainian Christmas Day, Newport, 1951
Image: unknown photographer
Source: Museum Victoria

• If your relatives belong to a specific migrant community, a relevant community organisation may be able to give you advice about finding them.

• Search digitised newspapers at the National Library of Australia’s Trove website for mentions of their name. With hundreds of national, state and local newspapers digitised from 1803 to 1954, you may find a mention of them.

• Their may be an online bulletin board for the ship your relative came on or a migrant camp in which they may have stayed. Many people find each other through such forums so it might be a great place to throw your question out to the wider world.

Mother, Boy & Girl Sitting on Public Seat, Middle Park, 1949 Mother, Boy & Girl Sitting on Public Seat, Middle Park, 1949
Image: Mr Cliff Atkinson
Source: Museum Victoria

• Doing an online search for their names might reveal something. While it sounds obvious, many don’t think of it! Lots of people are online these days with personal websites, blogs, social networking, business websites and so forth.

• Various organisations have tracing services that may, in certain circumstances, be able to locate missing family members.

Got a question? Ask us!


Post World War II Immigration in Photographs

Bell telephone prototype

by Kate C
Publish date
10 March 2012
Comments (0)

“Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you."

This remarkably ordinary sentence, spoken by Alexander Graham Bell 136 years ago on 10 March 1876, comprises the first clear bi-directional transmission of speech via telephone. One of Bell's original experimental phones is set to go on display at Scienceworks in the upcoming Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention exhibition.

  Bell Double-Pole Magneto transmitter and receiver Bell Double-Pole Magneto receiver (ST 035633).
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

This Bell Double-Pole Magneto receiver is not the one Bell used when uttering that famous first sentence but it is very similar. It too was made in 1876 prior to Bell's first public demonstration of the telephone at Philadelphia's Centennial Exhibition in July of that year. It was used with the transmitter also in the museum's collection.

"These highly significant objects were originally brought to Melbourne by Bell's uncle, Edward Symonds, who visited his nephew's Boston laboratory in August 1876. Bell remained in contact with his uncle afterwards, and Symonds went on to assist in administering Bell's Australian patents," said curator David Demant. The transmitter, receiver and other Bell material were eventually donated to Museum Victoria in 1974 by Symonds' descendants.

"It is nowadays very hard to imagine life before the telephone, so deep has been its social and technological influence," said David.

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.