This is a rather lovely tale of a modern family embracing diversity for the sake of the children. OK, yes, we’re totally anthropomorphizing this story because they are owls, but the basics are fundamentally true, and the Internet is behind them all the way.
As reported by National Geographic, it all started when Jim Thomas, a hydrologist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, arrived at his office one morning in February to quite the racket.
On an office window ledge, a pair of great horned owls had obviously set up camp to nest and were fending off an attempted territorial grab by some ravens. This brought the birds to Thomas and the rest of the office’s attention.
So when a third owl, a female, turned up, they were surprised to witness not another territorial fight but the owl instead building her own nest about a foot away, apparently in harmony with the other pair.
They were really surprised, however, when the second female laid eggs and the male bird began bringing food for her as well as for his partner.
Polygyny – when a male has two "wives", or in the animal kingdom, when a male is mating with two or more females – has been witnessed in animals before, but never in this species as they are usually monogamous, ornithologist Christian Artuso told NatGeo.
In fact, great horned owls aren’t even sociable, not usually flocking near each other and definitely not nesting in such proximity. Birds of prey are usually in direct competition with each other for food so a male usually wouldn’t be able to find enough food to sustain two families.
Incredibly, Thomas had enough foresight to realize they were witnessing something quite special and set up a web camera to live stream footage of the family. It has proved incredibly popular, the ornithological equivalent of Big Love, or one of those reality TV shows that follow families around.
Sadly, the second owl’s eggs didn’t hatch, but instead of leaving, when the first smaller female's eggs produced two owlets, she began to help care for them.
It’s not plain sailing all the time for this group – what family is? – and the females occasionally tussle, but the proud family has watched one owlet successfully fledge the nest, and the second is expected to any day now.
Thomas, who retired in March, was pleased he got to witness something so special and share it with the world. “It was a good going-away present," he said.
[H/T: National Geographic]