Book VI, Chapter XLVII
Of certain birds that lay but one egg, and there are many of them.
Translated by Madeline Seibel Dean ’22
I don’t think that this notable account should be left forgotten until it is discussed at greater length in a special chapter in the book dedicated to birds. Even those that have not seen them would greatly admire hearing about birds that lay no more than one egg, of which our Spaniards saw and ate many on the island of San Tomas, as it will be further discussed in Chapter III of Book XX of the second part of these histories, when I will address the voyage of the Armada de la Especiería or Fleet of the Spices. And without a doubt it is a great novelty, because for the most part, most commonly and generally, birds lay two eggs or more. I refer to those that are not domesticated but which nest at certain times in order to increase their breed or generation, just as the doves and other birds that remain in pairs like the parrot; although these and the doves move in flocks with many in company, even when they are many or few they are always in twos, male and female. There are other birds that lay more and more eggs, one by one and in different days, and when they reach a certain number they raise their young, like swallows, thrushes, swifts and others. Other birds multiply more or produce many from one clutch, like partridges, geese, ducks and even our house hens.
But a bird laying just one egg and hatching it, I have only heard this of the ones I mentioned from the island of San Tomas and others that are here on this our island of Hispaniola that the Indians call papayçios. These papayçios are nocturnal birds, and those that were first mentioned from the island of San Mateo are not nocturnal. Both of these are water birds and they sustain themselves by fishing, and their feet are similar to those of ducks or geese, but like I said dissimilar in their young; because geese and ducks lay many eggs, one by one, and after they finish laying they hatch their chicks, like hens, turkeys and many other birds that keep such custom or manner in their reproduction. So I have only heard of these two birds, those from the island of San Mateo and these from our Island of Hispaniola, as laying just one egg.
Image: Antique print of bird egga dated to the 1830s.