Why Chicken Egg Colors Vary From Bird to Bird

By: Christopher Hassiotis & Mack Hayden  | 
eggs, colors
A local farmers market in Annandale, Virginia, sells natural chicken eggs. Different chickens lay eggs of different colors solely because of their genetic makeup. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Peruse the egg section of a grocery store or farmers market, and you'll notice cartons of eggs separated into white and brown, sometimes even green or blue eggs. But once they arrive scrambled on a plate with cheese and tomatoes, perhaps, or baked into a cake, it's tough to tell the difference. In fact, do chicken egg colors mean anything at all?

This isn't a flour or rice situation: Brown eggs are not more "natural," and white eggs have not been decolored with bleach. Both varieties occur completely naturally, as do bluish-green chicken eggs.


But really, all chicken eggs are the same on the inside. So what causes different egg colors among the same type of bird?

Why Are There Different Colored Eggs?

Dr. Justin Fowler (which came first, the surname or the profession?), a professor in the University of Georgia's poultry science department, shines a light on things. "The different colors, or the presence of spots or speckling, come down to the genetics of the bird," he says.

"Leghorn chickens (which make up most of the commercial egg industry in the U.S.) lay white eggs, while Orphingtons or Plymouth Rocks will lay brown eggs," explains Fowler. "The Ameraucana breed has a pigment that is able to permeate the whole egg shell and make blue-colored eggs that are colored on both the inside and outside of the shell."


Pigment Tells

Want to know whether a specific chicken will pop out a white egg or a colored egg? Examine the chicken's earlobe. (Surprise, birds have earlobes!)

"Breeds with white earlobes will typically be those that do not put extra pigment on the egg shell before laying," says Fowler. And more often than not, chickens with lighter earlobes tend to have white feathers, and thus white eggs, while those with colored feathers and earlobes tend to produce colored eggs.

Egg Development and Shell Color

Chicken yolks, or ova, form in the chicken's ovaries. A fully formed ovum will leave the ovary and be deposited into the oviduct.

This part of the chicken's reproductive system has five distinct sequential segments which the yolk passes through on its way to the outside world, but it's the fourth one — the shell gland — that affects the color of the egg. This is where the shell forms around the ovum.

"The shell of all chicken eggs are made of calcium carbonate, a crystal that is white in color," says Fowler via email. "So all eggs are, at least at the start, white. Any that we then see that are other colors have had a pigment deposited on them as they were moving through the oviduct, after the white egg shell had been deposited. You can see this if you open up a brown egg and look at the inside of the shell, it'll be white."


What Makes One Chicken Different From the Other?

Two pigments are responsible for the spectrum of chicken egg color. Shades of greens and blues are caused by the pigment biliverdin, while protoporphyrin is responsible for reddish-brown hues.

The same egg-coloring process holds true for all birds with colorful eggs. American robin (Turdus migratorius) eggs, for instance, are famously blue. The pear-shaped eggs of a common murre (Uria aalge) can sport a blue hue, be speckled or feature brown streaks.


Curious as to the origins of the iconic yellow legs of the Leghorn chicken? While scientists dating back to Charles Darwin have identified the domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) as a domesticated subspecies of the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), Swedish researchers in a 2008 study identified early crossbreeding with the grey junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) as introducing the genes behind the modern chicken's yellow legs.

Oh, but that egg-inside-an-egg story that made the rounds around the internet? That's another thing entirely, and involves an egg accidentally reversing its course in the oviduct.


Are All Chicken Egg Colors OK to Eat?

Many people wonder if the color of a chicken egg affects its health benefits. The good news is that regardless of the shell color — be it white, brown, or even a colorful variety like green or blue — the inside of the egg is just as nutritious.

Whether you're eating eggs from Rhode Island Reds (commonly brown-egg-laying chickens), White Leghorns (which produce white eggs) or Easter Eggers (which can lay colorful eggs in shades of blue, green and olive), you'll get the same nutrients.


While the egg color itself doesn't impact the egg's quality, a chicken's diet can. Chickens that have access to a wider variety of foods, including foraged greens and insects, may produce eggs with slightly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins.

So, when choosing eggs at the grocery store, focus on labels that indicate the chickens' living conditions, like "pasture-raised" or "cage-free," rather than just the shell color.

Finally, some chicken enthusiasts like to cross-breed different chicken breeds. This can result in even more interesting egg colors, from speckled to dark brown or even pink! However, these color variations are purely aesthetic and don't affect the egg's nutritional value.


Chicken Egg Color FAQ

Why do some chickens lay colored eggs?
Some chickens lay colored eggs because of the breed. Different breeds deposit different pigments on the shell that change the exterior and interior colors. However, the reason why this happens is still largely unknown. White eggs and colored eggs can all be healthy.
What kind of chickens lay colored eggs?
Some of the chickens that lay colored eggs are Rhode Island Red, Easter Egger, Barred Rock, Welsummer and Maran. The color of eggs depends on the breed and genetics. A brown egg layer and white egg layer just have slightly different genetics.
What color will my chicken eggs be?
To predict the egg color, you can check the color of your chicken’s earlobes. If your chickens have white earlobes, they'll likely be white egg layers. If they have red earlobes, they'll lay light or dark brown eggs.
What chickens lay blue and brown eggs?
Araucana and Ameraucana chickens lay blue eggs. Cream Legbar chickens are also blue egg layers. Breeds that lay brown eggs include Sussex, Plymouth Barred Rock, Orpington, Australorp and Rhode Island Red. Maran and Barnavelder chickens are dark brown egg layers
What color eggs does a Wyandotte chicken lay?
It depends on the type you have, but most Wyandotte chickens lay cream-colored or brown eggs, with varying shades.