An adorable, if slightly unusual, family of three owls spotted on the window ledge of a research facility in the US has stunned scientists.
Two baby owls are being raised by their father and respective mothers, as part of the polygamous family.
The behaviour has baffled experts, as this is the first example of a male of this species mating with multiple females at the same time.
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An adorable, if slightly unusual, family of three owls spotted on the window ledge of a research facility in the US has stunned scientists. Two baby owls are being raised by their father and respective mothers, as part of the polygamous family
The offices of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada, became home to the nocturnal birds in late February.
Two mating owls made their nest at the location, before being joined by another female, who went on to raise the pair's newborns with them.
Although the behaviour has been observed in other owl species, it has never been observed in Great Horned Owls, for two key reasons.
This species is highly territorial, so mating pairs tend to stick to themselves. More importantly, however, they're usually monogamous.
According to Christian Artuso, an ornithologist with Bird Studies Canada, the behaviour is the first ever example of polygyny - a male mating with two or more females - in Great Horned Owls.
David Catalano, an ornithologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, is also puzzled by their unusual behaviour.
'Very, very odd,' he told National Geographic.
Experts can only speculate as to how this behaviour came about. They believe it could be a case of 'misdirected parenting', where the second female is unaware the baby birds are not hers.
Another potential explanation is that the two females are related - perhaps sisters, or even mother and daughter.
'Without determining their genetics, everything is just a guess,' says Dr Jim Thomas, a hydrologist at the DRI who discovered the creatures.
Scientists decided to set up a webcam to live stream the owls as they nest on the rocky ledge.
It streams the events that unfold and what experts have seen so far defies scientific consensus.
Dr Thomas found the first two birds after he heard a 'racket' outside his window one morning and decided to investigate.
A mating couple was locked in a physical altercation with some ravens over the rights to the valuable real estate, he found.
After successfully defending their territory, the pair of Great Horned Owls swiftly became office sensations.
Fame soon subsided and bemusement took over as the birds were joined on the ledge by a third owl - a female.
Experts can only speculate as to how this unusual behaviour occurred. They believe it could be a case of 'misdirected parenting ', where the second female is unaware the birds are not hers. One of the birds fled the nest earlier this week, and the other is expected to follow suit
The birds were given names,