A bald eagle’s paternal instincts are in the spotlight this spring. In late March, Murphy — a 31-year-old bald eagle living at World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri — became a media sensation for incubating a rock as if it were an egg.
The bird, who has called the sanctuary home since the 1990s and can’t fly because of a wing injury, protected his rock baby from other eagles residing at the World Bird Sanctuary. Murphy’s behavior gained the attention of wildlife refuge visitors, who were concerned about his well-being. This prompted keepers to post about him on Facebook, which then attracted national news coverage.
“Murphy does not need a real egg to feel accomplished,” wrote the World Bird Sanctuary in a Facebook post. “He’s quite content with his rock, and VERY protective of it! After his spring hormones have run their course, he will get bored and move on to other activities.”
While keepers thought Murphy would eventually grow tired of caring for the rock, he remained vigilant about protecting it and seemed adamant about becoming a first-time father. His aggressive behavior toward the other eagles led keepers to move Murphy and “RockBaby” to their own enclosure, according to a Facebook post.
But earlier this month, Murphy had the opportunity to put his paternal instincts to use. On April 1, a bald eagle nestling in need of a foster parent arrived at World Bird Sanctuary. Dubbed Bald Eagle 23-126, the baby bird’s nest tree was destroyed in a storm about 60 miles away. Aside from caring for RockBaby, Murphy had limited parenting experience — but was the “obvious choice” to be the eaglet’s foster parent, Dawn Griffard, chief executive of the sanctuary, told the New York Times.
The keepers introduced the baby bird, who was only a few weeks old, to Murphy via a separate cage (which they called the “baby jail”) and then in his enclosure. The elder bald eagle responded positively by bonding with, protecting and feeding the little one. However, since Murphy is injured and can’t teach the baby certain essential skills, Wild Bird Sanctuary will eventually have to step in to help. But keepers are happy about the beloved duo’s progress and continue to keep fans updated regularly.
“Eaglet just finished gulping down the morning meal and has settled down for a nap while Papa Murphy looks on,” Wild Bird Sanctuary wrote this week in a Facebook post.
Good job, Murphy!