What has 2 heads, 2 wings and has been hanging around this N.S. home? No one knows

·3 min read

At first, Bill Gill thought there were two birds roaming around his backyard.

But on closer inspection, the Cape Breton man noticed there was only one plump little body — with two heads, two beaks and two wings.

Gill said both he and his wife, Earlene, saw the feathery forager, which stopped by his home in the community of Blacketts Lake in eastern Cape Breton, N.S., at least twice last month.

"We happened to notice that there was only two legs on it," said Gill, while looking out over his property.

"They both eat independently, or pecking — whatever they're doing there," he said of the bird's two heads. "He's pretty different looking."

Gill said the wild bird appears to be a ruffed grouse. It first arrived about 2½ weeks ago, just before dusk. When the couple tried to get closer, the bird flew into an apple tree.

When it visited again on Jan. 26, Gill snapped a photograph of the creature on his tablet. He crept within a couple metres of it before it flew into the woods, he said.

Bill Gill
Bill Gill

The greyish-brown bird is described as having two heads of different colours.

"One head is a little smaller than the other one, and it's a little bit lower on the body of it, but it's a darker head — it's almost black," said Gill.

"At one point, they turned their heads toward each other."

Searching the internet for answers

After spotting the bird, Gill said he and his wife began scouring the internet for other two-headed creatures.

"I guess you could say it was a shock when you stop and realize what it was," he said.

The retired electrical contractor has been living on the property for almost 30 years. In that time, he's seen coyotes, foxes, geese, ducks and eagles — but never a two-headed bird.

Gill shared his sighting during The Bird Hour on CBC Radio's Information Morning Cape Breton. Thephone-in program airs on the first Monday of each month.

"I wasn't sure I was going to call in ... but I decided I'd better, because it's not something that's very common," Gill said.

Gill said he is keeping his eyes peeled every day, just in case the bird comes back. He hopes some of his neighbours have spotted it, too.

'A long history of 2-headed animals'

Nova Scotia biologists say a two-headed bird is not out of the realm of possibilities.

"I believe it's entirely possible," said Leslie MacLaren, a professor emeritus with Halifax-based Dalhousie University's department of animal sciences and aquaculture, which is based in Truro, N.S.

"I think it's pretty rare, but I think it's possible."

MacLaren said survival rates for such birds would be low. Biologists say the anomaly is what's often described as conjoined twins.

"There's a very long history of two-headed animals," said Tamara Franz-Odendaal, a biology professor at Halifax's Mount Saint Vincent University.

"It's fairly rare, but there's two-headed snakes, two-headed cats," Franz-Odendaal said. "For animals, it's mostly the result of inbreeding, so it's quite, quite, rare to see it with wild animals. But yes, it certainly is possible."

Franz-Odendaal said it's also feasible for conjoined twins to develop different patterns of pigmentation.

Andrew Hebda, who retired in 2019 as zoology curator of the Nova Scotia Museum, said he's checked museum records, and there are no recorded provincial sightings of two-headed birds in the wild.

He said there is one record in literature of a two-headed grouse observed in Boston, dating back to the 1890s.