Eagle Who Thought Rock Was an Egg Finally Gets to Be a Dad

A lucky coincidence has given Murphy the opportunity to nurture an eaglet of his own

In early March, a bald eagle named Murphy, a resident of the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri, was ready to become a father. He crafted his nest carefully in the bottom of his enclosure, his home for most of his 31 years of life since an injury left him unable to fly. As time went on, he became more and more protective of his offspring, screeching and charging at anyone who tried to come near.

Murphy and eagletMurphy with his new charge World Bird Sanctuary

“We’ve never had a bird at the sanctuary protect a nest like that, so viciously,” Dawn Griffard, CEO of World Bird Sanctuary, tells the Washington Post’s Praveena Somasundaram.

Only one thing stood in the way: His careful brooding and nurturing was being spent on a lifeless rock. Murphy was experiencing a spring hormonal surge compelling him to brood, despite not having an egg of his own, which can lead birds to care for egg-like objects, Griffard tells Livia Albeck-Ripka of the New York Times.

Murphy
Murphy, a bald eagle at the World Bird Sanctuary, was focusing his fatherhood skills on a rock he thought was an egg until an orphaned eaglet needed a parent. Stu Goz via World Bird Sanctuary

“As it progressed along, he became more and more dedicated to his rock,” Roger Holloway, executive director of the sanctuary, says to Danny Wicentowski of St. Louis Public Radio (STLPR). Murphy became so aggressive in protecting his nest that he had to be moved to a separate enclosure. Keepers at the sanctuary assumed that Murphy’s fatherhood fantasy would pass with the season and he would move on from his rock.

Rock
Thanks to a spring hormonal surge, Murphy initially focused his parenting powers on a rock. World Bird Sanctuary

Then, news came from Ste. Genevieve, Missouri: A young eaglet had fallen from its nest during a storm and needed somewhere to stay. The World Bird Sanctuary realized that this could be Murphy’s big chance.

To see if Murphy could safely act as a surrogate, a few days after the eaglet’s arrival, keepers began a bonding process between the two birds. They removed the “rock baby” and put the eaglet, protected by a cage, into the enclosure with Murphy.

Eaglet
The eaglet was rescued after falling out of its nest during a storm. World Bird Sanctuary

“He was already showing the hormonal aspects of raising a chick,” Griffard tells the Post. “And he was taking such good care of his rock that we decided that he would be our best bet.”

Soon, Murphy began to respond to the eaglet’s peeps. A week after their introduction, the cage was removed so the two could interact more closely. When they were given food, a whole fish for Murphy and bite-sized pieces for his young charge, rather than each eating their separate dish, Murphy took his portion and ripped it up to feed to the baby.

Baby in cage
To ensure the two would get along, keepers at the World Bird Sanctuary initially kept the eaglet in a cage so it could safely meet Murphy. World Bird Sanctuary

“You can definitely see the imprinting happening, which is exactly what we wanted,” Griffard says to the Times.

Fans of the new eagle family can keep up with the regular updates posted on Facebook and Instagram. Holloway tells STLPR that the sanctuary is considering auctioning Murphy’s rock as a fundraiser for the nonprofit.

The sanctuary hopes to release the eaglet back into the wild this summer. Griffard tells the Post that Murphy will know when the time is right. Until then, Murphy will get the chance to experience parenthood in earnest.

“He was sitting on a rock and everybody told him, ‘It’s a rock, it’s not going to hatch,’” Griffard tells the Post. “And all of a sudden, in his mind, it hatched and he has a chick.”

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