As an amateur photographer and wildlife expert, it was no surprise that when Laurie Wolf discovered an Eastern Shriek Owl nesting in her Florida backyard, she began taking pictures to document the scene.The brownish-gray owl had made a nest in a bird box that was located in her backyard. The nest had also been visited earlier by a duck. She began taking pictures of the unusual sight. After a short time, she noticed what appeared to be an owlet nesting in the box with its mother.
As an animal lover, Laurie excitedly watched the pair. She carefully waited for her first real glimpse of the baby owl. When the day finally arrived, much to her surprise, it was not an owlet peeking out of the nest at her. It was a baby Wood Duck!She quickly took pictures of the adorable pair and sent them into National Geographic.
She told National Geographic, “The two of them were just sitting there side by side. It’s not believable. It’s not believable to me to this day.”
Apparently the owl had come across a wood duck egg and incubated it as her own. Shriek owls and wood ducks are known to share some of the same habitat so it was not entirely impossible that something like this might happen although it was highly unusual.
As natural born stealthy predators, shriek owls eat a diet of small mammals including mice, voles, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and poultry, including ducks. So Laurie began to worry about the owl’s future intention with the duck so she called wild life experts for advice.
It was decided that even though the owl seemed content to be raising the duckling as her own, instinct might prevail and the duckling would be better off being relocated to a safer location. However, that was not meant to be because the day Laurie tried to catch the little duck, it quickly ran toward the pond and was never seen again.
Although Laurie could not relocate the duck, she is hopeful the parents live in the pond and they might be reunited. She is amazed that she got to witness such a unique pairing. “I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like that in my life again,” she said.
Christian Artuso, the Manitoba Director of Bird Studies Canada, explains that this might have happened because wood ducks practice a behavior called, brood parasitism. Brood parasitism is an avian reproductive strategy wherein the birds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds forcing the nest owner to raise their baby.
We can only speculate about how it came to be that the owl incubated the wood duck egg until it hatched, or what she was thinking as she raised the tiny duckling, we do know the two were adorable.
We appreciate Laurie taking the pictures for all of us to enjoy.