If cute, uplifting, or funny viral stories about animals are your thing, then you’ve probably already heard of Murphy the Bald Eagle. Murphy made national headlines earlier this year for his earnest attempts to incubate a rock which he found in his enclosure. Murphy treated the rock as though it were an egg, sitting on the ground on top of it and occasionally turning it over as eagles do to regulate the temperatures of incubating eggs. Visitors to the World Bird Sanctuary (no relation to worldbirds.com) in Valley Park, Montana, noticed a sign on Murphy’s enclosure that warned them not to worry about his behavior. Although sitting on the ground might look worrying, Murphy was only acting out of a misplaced parental instinct.
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Murphy was born in 1992. As a fledgling, he was brought to World Bird Sanctuary from a facility in Oklahoma. The young Bald Eagle had a broken leg which had to be treated and allowed to heal fully before release would be possible. This was done and a release date was planned and scheduled. On the day of his release, Murphy was placed in a release nest, where he was expected to “fledge” and fly off to enjoy a life in the wild. Instead, perhaps due to his old injury or his captive upbringing, Murphy plummeted to the ground and sustained a broken wing. Now permanently unable to fly, Murphy has lived his entire life in captivity at the sanctuary. Since 2003, Murphy has been housed with a fellow Bald Eagle named Largo.
It seems, however, that Largo’s company may not be enough for Murphy whose behavior towards a round-ish rock in his enclosure indicated a desire to raise his very own nestlings. Initially, the sanctuary intended to “ride out” this strange new behavior and allow Murphy to tend his rock for as long as necessary. After a while, though, Murphy became increasingly aggressive surrounding his rock and keepers were forced to move him into a more isolated enclosure. It was not long after this that Murphy was granted a very lucky and unusual opportunity.
Eaglet 23-126 was found orphaned but unharmed after a storm. Far too young to survive without intervention, the chick was brought to World Bird Sanctuary for rehabilitation and eventual release. The timing was perfect. In the throes of spring hormones, Murphy seemed desperate, almost determined to hatch an eaglet of his own and then along came 23-126, who had a terrible need for a parent. Keepers worried that Murphy, who had never been a parent before, would not know how to care for his new charge. They monitored the two of them closely and were very cautious about introducing the vulnerable little bird to his foster father. In the end, though, Murphy proved that there was little cause for worry. Before very long, Murphy was tearing up his own food and feeding it to the eaglet.
As Eaglet 23-126 grows under the watchful eye of its foster father, fans from around the world watch with interest. Some have suggested that the baby be named “Rocky,” but 23-126 is destined for release. The sanctuary sees it as bad luck to name a bird that will one day return to the wild. It is hoped that with Murphy’s help, 23-126 will do just that.