How to Tell If a Robin's Egg Is Still Alive

Darcy Logan

If you’ve found a robin’s egg, you might be wondering if it is still alive and, if so, if you could hatch it. The reality is that having a robin’s egg in your possession is illegal unless you have a permit. Robins are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.


Disturbing a robin's nest or eggs is illegal.

This makes it illegal to possess native birds as well as their eggs, feathers and nests. It is also illegal to move or remove a wild bird’s nest.

When dealing with a robin’s egg, it is important to minimize any contact you have with it. Even if it were possible to incubate the egg successfully, caring for and raising a baby robin is extremely difficult. The egg’s best chance is to be raised by its parents.

  1. Inspect any egg found on the ground for cracks. If it appears intact, you can try to locate the nest and replace it. It is a myth that birds will reject eggs and baby birds if they “smell” like humans. Birds have a very poor sense of smell.

  2. Leave broken eggs alone, even if they are on the ground. A broken egg will not survive long enough to hatch. If the egg was in the process of hatching when it fell to the ground, the chick is probably dead. Chicks make a small hole in the egg when they hatch. If you see a small hole, you can peek inside to see if the chick is moving. If it is, replace it back into the nest immediately.

  3. Observe from a distance any eggs still inside a nest, even if the nest appears to be abandoned. Robins lay one egg a day but won’t start incubating them until they have four to five eggs. If you are quiet and patient, you should see the mother bird returning to the nest.

  4. Avoid putting robin’s eggs into a nest with other bird eggs. Birds will not become surrogate mothers for another chick.

  5. Do not try to candle a robin’s egg. Candling involves taking the egg into a dark room and holding it in front of a bright flashlight. While this is the only way to ensure an intact egg is living, it is illegal. Even if you discover the egg is alive, the time it takes to candle the egg will likely kill it. Once incubation begins, eggs need to continue being incubated or else they die.

  6. Observe the nest for about two weeks. Once a female robin begins to sit on the eggs, she will remain on the nest for about 10 to 12 days. During this time she will move very little in order to avoid attracting predators. Male robins often bring females food as well as aggressively protect the nest when necessary.