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Mistaken Identities

In rare cases, American Kestrels have been known to raise the young of other species. Near Sacramento, California, kestrels incubated a screech-owl egg in addition their own three eggs. The owlet fledged along with the kestrels. Another pair of kestrels hatched a Bufflehead egg along with their own two eggs near Besnard Lake in Saskatchewan. Cases like these may arise when nest cavities are scarce and two species lay their eggs in the same nest.

Photo by Paul Lemmons

In another case of bird "adoption," a Northern Cardinal delivered worms to a goldfish at the edge of a garden pool. The colorful, gaping mouths of young birds stimulate their parents to feed them. The goldfish, accustomed to being fed at the surface, must have opened its mouth and invited the same response.

Sources: The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology (see


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