After the duckling hatches in her nest, she seems to “adopt” it. One of a Florida screech owl’s hatchlings didn’t look like her, which surprised her, but she didn’t mind. Unlike in the story “The Ugly Duckling,” the mother owl seemed to care for the duckling as if it were her own. The had been sitting on her eggs in a nest box for about a month in the back yard of a nature photographer. Laurie Wolf, a photographer, saw a small bird sitting next to an owl one morning and ran outside to picture it. But when she looked more closely, she saw that it was a duck!
Wolf told National Geographic that the two of them were just sitting there next to each other.
“I can’t believe it. It still doesn’t make sense to me.” Wolf and her husband tried to catch the little wood duck to take it to a wildlife sanctuary because they were afraid the owl, which is a bird of prey, would eat it. But the duckling jumped out of the nest box and “made a beeline for the pond.” They never saw him again. Christian Artuso, in charge of Bird Studies Canada, told National Geographic that what Wolf thought she saw was likely true. It’s not the first time scientists have seen wood ducks living with screech owls.
In 2005, when Artuso was studying eastern screech owls for his Ph.D., he saw something similar. Artuso, who wrote about his findings in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology, says that in that case, the owl laid eggs and raised three wood duck chicks. He says, “We know this happens, but we don’t really know how often.” He says this is because wood ducks do something called “brood parasitism,” which means they lay an egg or two in another bird’s nest to increase the chances that at least one of their young will survive. “It’s like not putting all your eggs in one basket,” Artuso said. “If you spread your eggs out, you have a better chance of passing on your genes, especially if a predator eats some of your eggs.” Even though duck eggs are roughly twice as big as owl eggs, the owls don’t seem suspicious. “The parents may be thinking, ‘Oh my god! This egg is very big. We’ll have the best baby in the world!” Artuso said.