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How Murphy the bald eagle incubated a rock and then became a dad

Murphy, a bald eagle at the World Bird Sanctuary, is introduced to an orphaned baby eaglet on April 12.
World Bird Sanctuary
Murphy, a bald eagle at the World Bird Sanctuary, is introduced to an orphaned baby eaglet on April 12.

There’s a new parent at the World Bird Sanctuary. His name is Murphy, and as a bald eagle, he began to attract attention in March when he was spotted incubating a rock in his enclosure.

“As it progressed along, he became more and more dedicated to his rock,” said Roger Holloway, executive director of the World Bird Sanctuary. Murphy has lived in the sanctuary for almost the entirety of his 31 years. A series of injuries to his leg and wing as a young eaglet left him unable to fly.

But, as an adult, his behavior pointed increasingly toward a picture of committed parenthood, even though the “child” was just a stone. On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Holloway described how the sanctuary worked to accommodate the new dad.

“He became more territorial and aggressive toward the keepers, and toward the other eagles in the enclosure,” he said. “And the nesting site that he chose within the enclosure, of course, was right by the entrance.”

Murphy’s fixation on fatherhood quickly went viral, but his story didn’t end with a one-sided relationship with the rock. Last week, the sanctuary introduced Murphy to an orphaned baby eaglet. The two have already bonded, and Murphy is now feeding and protecting the tiny, fluffy eaglet — something no one anticipated when he began caring for the rock.

Holloway called the development, which followed the discovery of a baby eaglet that had fallen from a nest in Ste. Genevieve, “a wonderful coincidence.”

“We all know here that the best possible parenting for any baby bird of prey is its own kind,” Holloway said. “So when you have an eagle in nesting mode, that's a good time to try and see if they will make a suitable surrogate parent.”

Now in their second week as parent and child, Murphy and the eaglet continue to inspire bird lovers and fans around the world. On Monday, the World Bird Sanctuary posted a video showing off the enclosure and a new, larger nest.

The eaglet, the sanctuary noted, had “just finished gulping down the morning meal and has settled down for a nap while Papa Murphy looks on.”

As for the previously parented rock, Holloway said it may be auctioned to help raise money for the nonprofit.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."