Some animals are just natural parents. While mothers are better known for being attentive caregivers, sometimes it’s the males of the species who prove to be very caring dads.
Like Murphy, a bald eagle at a bird sanctuary who became famous for caring for a rock as if it were his own egg — but when an orphaned eaglet needed some love, he got a chance to be a dad for real.
Murphy, a 31-year-old flightless bald eagle, lives in the care of the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri. Recently, his carers started to notice something unusual about his behavior.
Murphy built a nest in his enclosure, and staff soon realized that Murphy was incubating a small rock as if it were an egg. Like any good bird parent, Murphy gently cared for the rock and protected it from harm: according to the New York Times, Murphy would defensively squawk at other birds who came nearby.
The eagle’s unusual behavior apparently confused enough visitors that the sanctuary put up a sign explaining the situation.
“If you see an eagle lying down in the back left corner under a perch, that’s Murphy! Murphy is not hurt, sick, or otherwise in distress. He has built a nest on the ground and is very carefully incubating a rock! We wish him the best of luck!“
Murphy’s story went viral online. Some found it funny, but others found it sad that Murphy was doting over an “egg” that would never hatch. However the sanctuary assured fans that the bald eagle was doing just fine.
“Although it might make you feel sad that Murphy has built a nest and is nurturing a rock as an egg, it’s just his hormonal response to spring,” world Bird Sanctuary wrote on Facebook. “Murphy is not sad, so you don’t need to be.”
They explained that Murphy is not “lonely,” as he shares a house with four other bald eagles, who are “incredibly spoiled.” Murphy cannot fly due to an injury to one of his wings, so he requires permanent care in the sanctuary.
In another post, they also said they could not provide him with a goose or chicken egg, as some have suggested, as it would put the baby in danger. But soon, fate intervened and Murphy got an unexpected opportunity to be a dad for real.
According to the World Bird Sanctuary, an eagle nest in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri was blown down by very high winds, causing the death of one of the chicks. The other chick was rescued and brought to the sanctuary’s Wildlife Hospital.
They said the chick was “bruised and battered” but otherwise in good shape. They made a plan to introduce the chick to one of their adult eagles as a foster… and they decided to give eager dad Murphy the responsibility.
“Murphy’s dad instincts were already in high gear, but at 31 years old, he had never raised a chick before,” they wrote on Facebook. “It’s definitely a gamble, but also the chick’s best chance.”
“It was kind of like, how can we not do this?” Dawn Griffard, the chief executive of the sanctuary, told the New York Times. “How can we not give him a chance?”
They created a “baby jail,” a box made out of wood framing, and placed it in Murphy’s enclosure. This allowed Murphy and the eaglet to get used to each other while avoiding any risk of injury.
Murphy appeared to accept the baby, and the chick was let out of “baby jail.” Thankfully, Murphy’s protective instincts have kicked in and he’s raising the eaglet like his own.
The sanctuary said he was displaying “the behavior we were looking for”: “He has responded to the peeps of the baby, and begun protecting the area,” they explained.
“You can definitely see the imprinting happening, which is exactly what we wanted,” Dawn Griffard told the Times.
We’re so glad that Murphy got a chance to be a real father and he’s doing such a great job caring for this little eaglet!
Please share this adorable story! 🦅❤️