A photographer has captured an unusual picture of an owl who is raising a duckling as if it were her own.
Laurie Wolf of Jupiter, Florida spotted the unlikely duo in her back garden, with their heads poking out of a hole in a tree.
She knew the eastern screech owl living on her property was looking after a youngster, but assumed it was her own owl hatchling.
On closer inspection, Wolf noticed a little yellow body next to the older brown bird and realized it was a duckling, not a young owl as she had expected.
Wolf 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.”
The woman initially feared that the predatory owl might eat the wood duck chick, and contacted a bird expert who agreed it was a likely outcome.
A local wildlife sanctuary agreed to care for the young bird if she could catch it, but when Laurie and her husband attempted the capture, the duckling escaped and ran off to a nearby pond.
The little creature hasn’t been seen since.
Wolf, a wildlife artist and amateur photographer, said: “I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like that in my life again.”
The phenomenon is not as unusual as it seems, as wood ducks often lay their eggs in numerous locations, including other birds’ nests in the hope that some will hatch and the young be looked after.
Christian Artuso, who recalled an incident in 2007 when an owl incubated and hatched three wood duck chicks, told National Geographic: “It’s not commonly documented, but it certainly happens.
“You could think of it as not keeping all your eggs in one basket.
“If you spread your eggs out, then your chances of passing on your genes are increased slightly, especially if you lose your own eggs to a predator.
“We know this occurs, but we really don’t know the frequency, so I was happy to see another example of this.”
It is not understood why the owl parents don’t realize they’re looking after another bird’s young, when the eggs have a very different appearance.
It’s likely the wood duckling is still alive and well, as the species is precocial, which means they’re able to survive on their own from a very young age.
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