What is an Egg Incubator?

Margo Upson
Margo Upson

An egg incubator is used to hatch bird or reptile eggs. The incubator keeps the eggs warm, allowing the fetuses inside of them to grow and hatch without the mother present. The incubator is set at 98˚F (37˚C), and the eggs are placed inside. Chicken eggs usually hatch after 21 days, while other birds may take more or less time than this.

Brown and white chicken eggs.
Brown and white chicken eggs.

There are several reasons why an egg incubator may be used. One reason is that a farmer wants to hatch some chicks, but none of his or her hens are broody, or ready to nest. Incubators are also used in large chicken raising facilities. Another common use of incubators is in classrooms, where students learn about eggs and chickens through watching the eggs hatch after incubating for a few weeks.

A chick and an egg.
A chick and an egg.

Incubators are most commonly used to hatch chicken eggs, but they can be used for any type of bird, from ducks to penguins or ostriches. Incubators can also be used to hatch reptile eggs, although this isn’t as common. Eggs for chickens, quails, ducks, and similar birds are available for purchase either online or through farming stores. Eggs are shipped in a cooler, and can last several weeks in lower temperatures. They should be immediately placed into a warm egg incubator as soon as they arrive.

There are many different types and sizes of egg incubators. Larger incubators have shelves to hold several layers of eggs, with some offering room for over 400 eggs. Some are small, holding only a few eggs and able to be set on a desktop. In some, the eggs are set in egg-carton like holders, and in others they are set in freely, giving the chicks room to move around once they have hatched. Many incubators have a built in fan, keeping the air moving and the temperature well regulated, and a viewing window on top.

Egg incubators are available at most farm and garden stores or on the internet. For those who enjoy do-it-yourself projects, it is even possible to make an incubator using supplies commonly found around the home. An egg incubator is a great way to increase the number of chickens in a flock. It is important to remember that newly hatched chicks should be kept under a heat lamp for the first three weeks to keep them from getting too cold. After that time, the chicks should be gradually introduced into the existing flock to prevent the other chickens from hurting them.

Egg incubators can be used for any kind of bird.
Egg incubators can be used for any kind of bird.
Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Margo has a varied academic background, which has involved everything from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education. These wide-ranging interests make her an ideal wiseGEEK writer, as she always enjoys becoming an expert on new and unfamiliar topics.

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Discussion Comments


I know that to hatch crocodile eggs you need to provide the correct temperatures so that you get the right genders. I guess they would probably mostly want to hatch out whichever gender is the largest so they can get the most leather from it.

When I was living in Africa I made friends with a man who had designed all kinds of incubators so he could sell the chicks.

He had turkeys and chickens and ducks, and even a goose egg incubator.

It was quite extraordinary considering he built them all himself from scratch with very little money. He had made himself one of the more wealthy men in town with his innovations.


The smaller the bird, the more difficult it is to hatch the chicks. It is tempting to try and incubate, for example, parrot eggs, as if you take the eggs from the mother she will often lay more. You might think this will mean more birds overall.

Also, hand raised birds are tamer than birds raised with their mother.

But, they can also suffer from health problems and a lot of the time the eggs won't hatch at all, even if you have a top of the line incubator. And getting the mother to lay multiple clutches of eggs can also cause health problems.

It's better if at all possible, to just leave the eggs with the mother, if it is a pet bird.


@goldensky - It's very important that you consistently regulate the temperature in your chicken egg incubator. It should be at ninety-nine degrees at all times and the humidity level should be above fifty percent.

It's okay to use an old cooler, although a styrofoam cooler with a lid works best because you'll need to punch a few holes in the sides for ventilation.

Another reason why you should choose styrofoam is so you cut a hole in the lid to insert the heat lamp through. You can even cut out a square in the side to glue in a piece of plexiglas to watch the little guys hatch.

Be sure to place a little thermometer inside to help regulate the temperature. You can raise the humidity by adding a little cup of water if necessary and some people prefer to add a mini fan to circulate the air evenly.

Hope this helps and don't forget to turn your eggs two to three times every day for the first seventeen days.


@goldensky - I made a cheap egg incubator for my son's science project last year. We used an old small plastic cooler and a heat lamp.

We put wood chips in the bottom of the cooler and nestled three eggs in the center of it. Only one of them hatched so we considered the project a success.


I need to make a homemade egg incubator for a science project this year. It'll be worth three hundred points which I desperately need.

Anyone have any ideas on how to make a small egg incubator that actually works. Thanks in advance.

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