Bald Eagle Becomes Foster Dad After Nurturing a Rock

Murphy the bald eagle went viral for sitting on a rock.



(Frank Fichtmueller /

Many children go through a stage where they enjoy playing with dolls, pretending to feed their baby dolls, reading books to them, and putting them to sleep. What’s interesting is that, as Southern Living reports, some eagles go through a sort of similar stage. For Murphy, an older, injured bald eagle, who caringly and tenderly incubated a rock “egg,” this wasn’t just a chance to play at being a dad. After Murphy went viral for taking care of a rock, his keepers at World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri gave him a real baby eaglet to care for. 

Murphy sits on a rock
Murphy’s been living at Word Bird Sanctuary for years, CBS News reports, ever since an injury as a chick left him unable to fly. This past March, this 31-year-old bald eagle found himself a rock, built a nest on the ground, and started incubating it, waiting for his “chick” to “hatch.”

The sanctuary, in tongue and cheek fashion, wrote in a Facebook post, “Very quietly and inconspicuously, one of our bald eagles, Murphy (male) has built an extremely simple nest on the ground and is incubating his single “egg” very carefully and attentively. We wish Murphy all the luck in the world, but we have yet to see a rock hatch.”

The post received more than 14,000 likes and many commenters responded that they felt bad for Murphy and that the sanctuary should swap it out with a real egg. The World Bird Sanctuary later clarified that, “Although it might make you feel sad that Murphy has built a nest and is nurturing a rock as an egg, it’s just his hormonal response to spring. Murphy is not sad, so you don’t need to be…Male bald eagles take an equal part in raising young, so this is very natural behavior for a male.”

“Murphy does not need a real egg to feel accomplished. 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. This is where you can feel sad - for the rock.”

A very dedicated dad
Whether Murphy sat on his “egg” due to spring hormones, or whether he was dreaming of parenthood, he proved to be an extremely conscientious dad, turning the “egg” every few hours. 

Southern Living reports that far from “getting bored and moving on to other activities,” Murphy could still be found perched on the “egg” a month later. His roommates, the three other eagles he shared his enclosure with, were stressed by Murphy’s attempts to aggressively protect his “egg” from harm, and the staff moved him to a private enclosure. 

The sanctuary explained in a Facebook post, “Our beloved Murphy the eagle has begun to cause a BIT too much drama with his over-exuberant protection of his nest and RockBaby within the 90,000+ cubic square foot eagle aviary at World Bird Sanctuary.”

“Murphy has taken over at least one third of the huge enclosure,” the post continued, “and is chasing the other four occupants - Siouxsie, Lewis, Boston, and Mitch - as soon as they approach the area. His claimed territory buffering his nest and RockBaby has expanded considerably and he is getting very aggressive, even though he can’t fly!”

Becoming a foster dad

By now, Murphy had become quite a bit of a celebrity, with thousands on social media following his egg saga. Meanwhile, Fox Weather reports, the World Bird Sanctuary got a new resident. High winds blew down a bald eagle nest with two chicks inside. The nest fall killed one chick, and left the other with injuries. 

The sanctuary staff tried to care for the injured eaglet without imprinting on it. They wore camouflage suits when feeding the chick, and used an eagle stuffy to interact with it. Then, they came up with an unorthodox idea. Instead of feeding the chick by hand, why not give Murphy a real shot at fatherhood. 

It was a risky plan. "Murphy’s dad instincts were already in high gear, but at 31 years old, he had never raised a chick before," the sanctuary shared. "It’s definitely a gamble, but also the chick’s best chance."

Southern Living shared that sanctuary staff carefully placed the baby chick inside Murphy’s enclosure and watched and waited. The next morning, the World Bird Sanctuary updated their followers with, “IT’S HAPPENING!!!!” Murphy had chopped up food for and fed the little eaglet. 

Fox Weather explained that he was "modeling eagle behavior perfectly, and becoming a wonderful, gentle papa." Weeks later, he continues to nurture and care for his foster chick and all signs point to him being a loving and caring papa bird. It’s a wonderful end to the story that began with Murphy sitting on a rock. It seems dreams can come true, even for eagles.

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