Owl Mistakes Duck Egg For Its Own And Ends Up Raising It Anyway

Animals are hilarious, kind, and intelligent at the same time, and sometimes, I believe they can outsmart and even out human us. Animals can be very loving and kind, the duo a Florida woman discovered in her backyard proves this.

Laurie Wolf found an owl and a duckling living in her Jupiter, Florida backyard. A wildlife artist and amateur photographer, she took a picture of them and sent it to the National Geographic.

She told National Geographic:

“The two of them were just sitting there side by side. It’s not believable. It’s not believable to me to this day.”

She first noticed the Eastern shriek owl that had taken up living arrangement inside a home box she has in her patio. Yet, about a month later, Wolf says she saw a cushioned thing in the crate with the owl, so she figured it was an infant owl that was settling with mother.

The Eastern screech owl had decided to raise the duckling as its own. This little duck was a wood duck – wood ducks have been known to live with shriek owls.

“Both of them were simply staying there next to each other. It’s not convincing. It’s not convincing to me right up ’til the present time.” 

Yet, Laurie was worried about the owl’s intentions and feared that it might eat the duckling.

She contacted a local bird expert to ask if these fears were valid, and they confirmed there was a possibility. She then contacted a wildlife sanctuary to see if they could take the duckling, and they agreed.

However, when Laurie and her husband went to the backyard to capture it, it hopped out of the box and headed to a pond. That was the last they saw of it.

Laurie says:

 “I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like that in my life again.” 

While we cannot be sure that we understand the motivation of the duo, we want to see it from a positive perspective, that the owl was happy to adopt its unexpected delivery.

Christian Artuso, the Manitoba director of Bird Studies Canada, explains that wood duck birds practice “brood parasitism.”

The phenomenon is apparently not that uncommon as wood duck birds are not fond of laying all their eggs in one place. They will often lay them in other bird’s nests in the hope that some will hatch and that the genes will enter the next generation. Artuso said:

‘It’s not commonly documented, but it certainly happens.’ 

He recalled an incident in 2007 when an owl incubated and hatched three wood duck chicks.

“You could think of it as not keeping all your eggs in one basket. If you spread your eggs out, then your chances of passing on your genes are increased slightly, especially if you lose your own eggs to a predator.”

Artuso says it’s impossible to know what a wild owl is thinking, but that it could be a case of what scientists call supernormal stimuli. He believes that female owls react with their mother’s instinct to nurture the egg instead of wondering where it came from.

 “The parents might be thinking, ‘Oh my god! This egg is huge!” We’re going to have the best baby in the world!’” 

He continued:

“We realize this happens, however, we truly don’t have the foggiest idea about the recurrence. So I was glad to see another case of this.”

Artuso thinks the Florida duckling may have survived:

“Wood duck chicks are precocial, which means they are pretty independent of the get-go. There are also many documented cases of chicks from one brood joining up with those from another brood.”