A photographer has captured an unlikely mother’s love between an owl and a duckling after the owl mistakenly hatched a wood duck’s egg as one of her own.
It might sound as though it has come straight from a fairy tale, but a photographer in Florida has captured the bizarre real-life partnership.
Laurie Wolf, from Jupiter, thought an eastern screech owl that lived in a nearby tree in her backyard had chicks of her own, known as owl hatchlings.
Upon closer look, it became clear the cute yellow bird peeking out, next to their nestmate, was a little duckling. The screech owl was raising as its own.
Laurie was surprised by her finding and contacted National Geographic and spoke to them about her discovery.
“The two of them were just sitting there side by side. It’s not believable. It’s not believable to me to this day.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like that in my life again.”
Worried that the predatory owl might eat the duck chick, Laurie contacted a bird expert who said she was right to be fearful.
A local wildlife sanctuary offered to look after the duckling if Laurie could catch it.
As she attempted to catch the bird, it jumped out of the nest and ran to a nearby pond. She never saw it again.
According to Christian Artuso, the Manitoba director of Bird Studies Canada, there are records of wood ducks living with eastern screech owls.
Artuso told National Geographic, ‘it’s not commonly documented, but it certainly happens,’ having observed a female owl who hatched three wood duck chicks in 2005.
Wood ducks practice ‘brood parasitism’—parent ducks sometimes lay eggs in other bird’s nests. They hope some eggs will hatch, and the genes will enter the next generation.
“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.”
“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.”
He also thinks the 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.”