Once independent predators stalking across the landscape, the domestic cat has become something of a softy compared to its wild ancestors. Though they may be affectionate and caring with their owners, many pet cats still harbor a penchant for killing small fluffy things, which might make you think that a duck or a chicken would be an unlikely pal. However, the Wild Seven Homestead proved this week that, under the right circumstances, a cat, chicken, and duck can make quite the triptych when it comes to raising babies.
“We came home from the state park today, to find our cat decided that the duck den was the safest place to have her babies, right along side the broody mama duck and hen that are laying on 22 duck eggs together,” wrote the Wild Seven Homestead in a Facebook post. “THREE species to a den.”
The subsequent photos – which, fair warning, may cause you to buckle with joy – show the remarkably blissed-out mama cat stretched out beneath the tail feathers of a chicken with a veritable throne of duck eggs and kittens beneath her. A later photo shows the owner of the duck eggs, a Muscovy duck named Daisy, completing the trio alongside Sable, the cat, and a nameless chicken (with 60 on the property, the homestead told us, it’s not so easy to keep track).
“They were all raised from babies together on our homestead,” said the Wild Seven Homestead to IFLScience. "All of our different species and animals get along incredibly well! We've had cats (including Sable) previously born in the chicken coop with chicks, 60+ hens and roosters with no problems.”
Motherhood has quite a profound effect on cats as they experience a spike in prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production. The spike in this maternal hormone has been found to last for several weeks after birth, potentially stimulated further by the nursing kittens. Squirmy kittens can be like herding, well, cats, and the instinctive drive to keep everyone together has seen some cats scooping up baby animals of all species and returning them to her den. One such example not only saw a mother cat herding up ducklings as if they were her own, but even that the ducklings began mimicking her actual progeny in suckling (as best a beak can) her nipples.
Chickens have also been known to go into something of a maternal autopilot, brooding just about anything that sits still long enough. As scores of videos on the internet show, this broody behavior even extends to kittens, claws n’ all.
Cross-species “adoptions” even happen at sea, as was demonstrated by a recent sighting of a bottlenose dolphin with a pilot whale calf in tow. While done without malice, dolphins have apparently been known to steal the calves of other species in an act of misplaced maternal instinct. The kidnapped young are usually species of a similar size to the birth young of the mother, so that a bottlenose would take on a pilot whale was a surprise indeed.