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This Eagle Incubated a Rock and Is Now Dad of the Year

We love you, Murphy!

A bald eagle stares at the camera, with a dark green background.

Murphy the bald eagle started his rise to fame when someone Tweeted out a funny photo she’d seen at a local bird sanctuary.

The sign, hung next to the enclosure where Murphy can be seen nestled on the ground, reads, “Is that eagle hurt!? If you see an eagle lying down in the back left corner under a perch, that’s Murphy! Murphy is not hurt, sick, or otherwise in distress. He has built a nest on the ground, and is very carefully incubating a rock! We wish him the best of luck!”

The photo was taken at the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri, where Murphy has lived since the early ’90s, when a broken wing rendered him flightless. Apparently he sat on the rock for weeks, turning it as if it were an egg, and chasing off other eagles that got too close. The sign was funny, but there was also a certain pathos to it. Who was going to break it to the aspiring dad that rocks don’t hatch into eaglets?

However, a solution eventually presented itself. The sanctuary took in 23-126, a baby eagle who was left homeless and orphaned when their nest collapsed. The sanctuary staff decided to put 23-126 in the enclosure with Murphy, and the sanctuary’s CEO, Dawn Griffard, began documenting what happened next in a Twitter thread.

They started by putting 23-126 in a special enclosure they referred to as “baby jail.” Eventually, they let the chick into Murphy’s enclosure so that the two could get to know each other, and they soon found that Murphy had torn up a fish and fed it to 23-126. Dad and baby continue to bond as fans follow them online.

Murphy isn’t the first bird dad to start with a rock and end up with a baby. Around 2008, two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo, Roy and Silo, paired with each other and began trying to hatch a rock. Their keeper, Rob Gramzay, gave them an egg that needed to be incubated, and together they hatched and raised their daughter, Tango. The story was the subject of the now-classic (and frequently banned) children’s book, And Tango Makes Three.

(featured image: iStock / Getty Images)

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Julia Glassman (she/they) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at