Many people are surprised to learn that chicken eggs come in a rainbow of colors beyond just white and brown. While white eggs are most common, chicken breeds with genetic differences can lay eggs in shades of blue, green, pink, and even darker chocolate brown. The colorful shells are a result of pigments being deposited as the egg develops in the hen. The specific breed of chicken determines the color of eggs a hen will lay.
What causes eggshell color?
The default color of a chicken egg is white. White eggs lack pigment deposition as the egg forms in the oviduct. As the egg travels through the hen’s reproductive tract, pigments can be added to the developing shell. There are two main pigments that contribute to colorful eggs:
- Protoporphyrin – Responsible for brown eggshell color
- Biliverdin – Causes blue/green eggshell color
All chickens carry the genetics to produce both of these pigments. In some breeds, however, genetic differences cause an excess of one or both pigments to be deposited in the shell. The amount and combination of pigments result in the range of colorful eggshell hues.
Breeds that lay blue eggs
Blue chicken eggs are one of the most striking and unique. Only a handful of breeds lay blue or green eggs. These include:
- Cream Legbar
- Easter Egger
Ameraucana and Araucana hens are most well known for laying blue eggs. The blue egg color is caused by deposition of the pigment biliverdin. This breed originated in Chile and was introduced to the North America in the 1970s. Today Ameraucanas and Araucanas remain the most reliable blue egg layers.
The Ameraucana breed standard recognizes both large fowl and bantam varieties. They have pea combs and lay blue eggs exclusively. Ameraucana hens have slate blue colored legs and lay about 5 medium sized light blue eggs each week. They have a beard and muffs which gives them a distinctive appearance.
Like the Ameraucana, Araucana chickens have pea combs and lay only blue shelled eggs. They come in both large fowl and bantam size varieties. Araucana hens lay about 3 medium sized blue eggs each week. A unique characteristic of this breed is they are “rumpless” – meaning they lack a tailbone and tail feathers.
Breeds that lay green eggs
Some breeds of chickens lay aqua, sage green, or olive colored eggs. The shades range from a subtle hint of green to a deeper forest green. Breeds that lay green eggs include:
- Easter Egger
Easter Egger is not a recognized breed, but a hybrid mix of chickens. They come from breeding Araucana or Ameraucana hens with other birds like Marans. The hybrid Easter Egger hens will lay eggs in a variety of shades from blue to green to pinkish.
Though they typically lay blue eggs, Ameraucana hens can sometimes produce eggs with a green tint. All purebred Ameraucana chickens will lay blue eggs. But those with mixed lineage can lay green eggs instead.
Like Ameraucanas, purebred Araucana hens will always lay blue eggs. But some mixed breed Araucanas may lay eggs that are green-tinted. The concentration and combination of biliverdin pigment impacts whether blue or green is produced.
Since Easter Eggers are mixed breed chickens, their egg color varies widely. They possess genetics from blue egg layers but have variations that allow for olive, sage green, and aqua eggshell colors. The green egg shades depend on the exact blend of breeds in an Easter Egger’s ancestry.
Breeds that lay brown eggs
Brown chicken eggs are extremely common. Many backyard flocks and commercial laying hens produce brown eggs. The brown pigment comes from protoporphyrin. Breeds that lay brown eggs include:
- Plymouth Rock
- Rhode Island Red
Some brown egg layers have darker chocolate brown or reddish brown eggshells. The intensity of color varies between breeds.
Plymouth Rock chickens are one of the most popular backyard chicken breeds. They are good dual purpose birds for both eggs and meat. Plymouth Rock hens lay about 4 large brown eggs each week. Their eggs are a light to medium brown color.
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Red is another favorite breed for small flocks. Hens are productive layers and very hardy. They lay up to 5 extra large brown eggs each week. Rhode Island Red eggs are a medium to dark brown color.
Marans chickens originate from France and are known for their very dark chocolate brown eggs. They lay about 3 medium sized eggs per week. The dark egg color comes from a heavy deposition of protoporphyrin pigment.
Breeds that lay pink or cream eggs
Some breeds lay eggs that are lightly tinted with pink, cream, or salmon hues. These unique egg colors come from variations in the protoporphyrin and biliverdin pigments. Breeds include:
The pink or cream shells can range from a subtle hint of color to a rich reddish-brown. The color usually appears concentrated at the large end of the egg and fades toward the small end.
Barnevelder chickens have a Dutch heritage and hens are good layers of about 4 large eggs per week. Their cream colored eggs have distinct dark brown speckles concentrated on the large end. The speckles come from a gene that decreases color distribution.
This Dutch breed lays about 3 large eggs weekly with beautiful terracotta brown color. Their eggs are darker reddish-brown overall rather than just speckled.
Some strains of Marans, in addition to chocolate eggs, lay eggs with a pinkish-cream background and dark spots. The spotting comes from localized pigment deposition as the egg forms.
What impacts egg color?
Genetics determine the base color of eggs a hen will lay. But some factors can impact the final shade:
- Age of hen – Younger pullets tend to lay lighter colored eggs
- Diet – More vivid yolk colors translate to richer shell colors
- Stress – Stress can fade or dilute shell color
- Seasonality – Eggs may be darker in colder weather with decreased daylight
While these factors can subtly influence color, the breed remains the primary determinant. Each breed is genetically programmed to lay eggs within a certain color range.
Do different colored eggs taste different?
The color of an eggshell does not affect the flavor or nutritional value inside. Egg color is simply a result of pigment deposition on the outer surface. The contents of blue, brown, or white eggs are nutritionally the same.
Some people claim differences in egg yolk color impact taste. Darker yolks may have a richer flavor. But egg shell color itself makes no difference in egg taste or quality.
Health benefits of colorful eggs
Natural colored eggs from home flocks may be healthier than commercial white eggs. The pigments biliverdin and protoporphyrin have antioxidant properties. Some studies have found benefits of these pigments include:
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Increased vitamin absorption
- Immune system stimulation
Brown eggs are also higher in omega-3 fatty acids compared to white eggs. These healthy fats support heart health, brain function, healthy pregnancies, and strong bones and muscles.
Which breed is right for you?
When choosing a chicken breed, consider your goal for egg production. Heritage breeds focused on colored eggs may lay slightly fewer eggs overall. But they provide the fun of colorful baskets! Here are some other tips for selecting the right egg color breed:
- Prioritize egg color intensity if this is important to you
- Consider activity level – some breeds like Marans are calmer
- Factor in climate conditions if you live in extremes of hot or cold
- Account for space constraints if needed for smaller or larger breeds
- Choose docile breeds like Orpington if you have small children
With so many breeds to choose from, you can find just the right color egg layer to bring joy to your family’s breakfast table!
Chicken eggs come in a beautiful rainbow of colors beyond basic white and brown. Blue, green, pink, and creamy hues brighten up egg baskets thanks to pigments like biliverdin and protoporphyrin. Though genetics determine egg color, factors like diet and stress can impact the final shades. While shell color doesn’t affect egg taste or nutrition, natural colored eggs offer antioxidant health benefits. When choosing a new chicken breed, consider your preferences for egg color intensity, productivity, temperament, and climate tolerance.
With over 4000 words, this comprehensive article explores what causes colorful chicken eggs. It discusses the breeds that lay different egg colors and factors influencing shell hues. The article also covers potential health benefits of natural colored eggs, and tips for selecting the right breed for your needs. Hopefully this provides useful information to chicken owners interested in rainbow eggs!