What a Bird With a Baby Bump Looks Like

Okay, it's an egg bump.
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The egg-bearing Mascarene petrel in flight (Hadoram Shirihai/Tubenoses project)

Of all the small mysteries of avian life, I've spent most of my time wondering about why I've never seen a baby pigeon. But there is an equally important mystery of the bird lifecycle that I'd never paused to consider: given that eggs are fairly large, oblong objects, is it possible to see a bird with a baby/egg bump?

The answer is yes. 

The world now has a clear image of a flying bird about to lay an egg, thanks to scientists studying the endangered Mascarene petrel near the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. The work was revealed in the latest issue of the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club

The lead author on the paper, Hadoram Shirihai, recounted the adventure to the conservation non-profit, BirdLife International. "I spotted a petrel through my camera's viewfinder. Almost immediately I saw the outline of an egg, a huge bump at its belly. I called out to the other expedition members—'she has an egg, she has an egg,'" he said. "She flew close to the boat which gave me the unique chance to photograph her just before the sun set. It was a magical moment, and to think that in less than an hour she would probably lay her egg and contribute to the future survival of this threatened species."

There was good reason to be excited. Taking a photograph of a bird with a visible egg bump is rare. BirdLife International believes it to be "the first record of any bird photographed in flight with an obvious egg inside the body."

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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