Worldwide, approximately 168 bird species are captive-bred for reintroduction into the wild. Programs tend to be initiated for species with a high level of endangerment. Depressed hatching success can be a problem for such programs and has been linked to artificial incubation. The need for artificial incubation is driven by the practice of multiclutching to increase egg production or by uncertainty over the incubation abilities of captive birds. There has been little attempt to determine how artificial incubation differs from bird-contact incubation. We describe a novel archive (data-logger) egg and use it to compare temperature, humidity, and egg-turning in 5 whooping crane (Grus americana) nests, 4 sandhill crane (G. canadensis) nests, and 3 models of artificial incubator; each of which are used to incubate eggs in whooping crane captive-breeding programs. Mean incubation temperature was 31.7° C for whooping cranes and 32.83° C for sandhill cranes. This is well below that of the artificial incubators (which were set based on a protocol of 37.6° C). Humidity in crane nests varied considerably, but median humidity in all 3 artificial incubators was substantially different from that in the crane nests. Two artificial incubators failed to turn the eggs in a way that mimicked crane egg-turning. Archive eggs are an effective tool for guiding the management of avian conservation breeding programs, and can be custom-made for other species. They also have potential to be applied to research on wild populations.
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Archive eggs: a research and management tool for avian conservation breeding