An eagle who went viral for his steadfast determination to incubate a rock has taken a real eaglet under his wing.
Murphy, a 31-year-old male bald eagle at the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri, started gaining fans last month after a now-viral tweet from a visitor showed him sitting on the ground in his enclosure. Near him was a sign that assured onlookers Murphy was OK, just a little confused.
“Murphy is NOT hurt, sick, or otherwise in distress,” the sign said. “He has built a nest on the ground, and is very carefully incubating a rock! We wish him the best of luck!”
The sanctuary said in a Facebook post about the situation that Murphy was not “sad” or lonely ― just reacting to spring hormones. But some admirers nevertheless felt that the bird was showing signs he could make a great dad if only he had the chance.
That chance would arise just a few weeks later.
On Tuesday, the sanctuary said in a follow-up post that Murphy had become so protective of his rock nest ― screaming and charging at fellow birds he perceived as a threat ― that he was distressing the other eagles in the enclosure. So staff moved Murphy and his rock to “their own private enclosure to alleviate tensions.”
As fate would have it, around the same time, someone brought a “bruised and battered” eagle chick to the sanctuary whose nest had been blown down by high winds.
“A plan was made to introduce the chick to one of our adult bald eagles to foster, but which one?” the sanctuary wrote.
Of course, the answer was obvious.
The eaglet was introduced to Murphy’s enclosure, first inside a small crate containing blankets and a heating pad that the sanctuary affectionately calls “baby jail.” The baby jail keeps the chick safe while the two birds acclimate to one another. Murphy, for his part, soon began responding to the baby eagle’s peeps and “protecting the area” around the eaglet.
A few days later, the eaglet was released from baby jail so the two could interact directly. The elder eagle stepped into the role of a single dad with aplomb and was soon feeding the younger bird part of a fish.
“Murphy and his new charge are bonding beautifully,” the sanctuary wrote on Saturday, alongside a video showing the pair side by side. The post noted that when the food arrives, Murphy can be seen waiting for the eaglet to eat, then demonstrating how to do so.
The sanctuary has not named the eaglet due to “superstition” that when a wildlife rehabilitation center names one of its patients, that animal will not end up being able to be released back into the wild. Murphy is a permanent sanctuary resident due to a wing injury that prevents him from flying.
But that hindrance hasn’t stopped the 31-year-old from being a great adoptive father.
“Murphy is modeling eagle behavior perfectly, and becoming a wonderful, gentle papa,” the sanctuary wrote.