In the wild, bald eagles and red-tailed hawks are natural-born enemies, frequently fighting each other to the death – with larger bald eagles typically winning those bloody battles.
That’s why it’s so amazing that instead of serving her offspring a 4-week-old red-tailed hawk she may have snatched, a bald eagle in British Columbia has literally taken the young bird under her wing, raising it alongside her three eaglets.
A raptor expert says this is extremely rare in nature. Why was the hawklet’s life spared? One theory is that the mother bald eagle’s hormonal urge to kill it was overwhelmed by her hormonal urge to feed it when the hungry hawklet started squawking for food.
“What probably happened in this case is that when they brought this little guy back, he probably begged for food, as he would do, not even realizing the danger it was in,” Dr. David Bird (yep, that’s his real name) told CTV News.
Food overrides everything for bald eagles, Bird told the Vancouver Sun. “He begged away and mom and dad said, ‘Okay, here’s an open, gaping beak. Let’s put food in it.’”
David Hancock of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation has a more gruesome theory of how the hawklet may have ended up in the nest.
Red-tailed hawks often dive-bomb bald eagle nests. “If the attacking red-tail, egg in oviduct, did get carried back to the nearby eagle nest, it is not unlikely that either in the death throes or upon being torn apart (less likely in my experience!) the egg got deposited into the eagle nest,” Hancock wrote in a blog.
No matter how the hawklet got there, Bird said this type of amazing “adoption” has only been documented a couple of times in the history of science.
However, the red-tailed hawk is only half the size of its “siblings,” which may eventually pose a problem.
“(If) one of those eaglets gets hungry, they’re going to look at this little hawk and say ‘I’m bigger than you, you’re weaker than me and I’m going to just squeeze the life out of you and start eating you,’” Bird rather luridly told CTV News.
It also won’t help that sibling rivalry and fratricide is not uncommon in eagles, according to Hancock.
But for now, the hawklet appears to be very comfortable in his adopted home, in a Douglas fir at the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
“I’ve seen it standing on the edge of the nest, right beside two eaglets, and looking very, very cocky and sort of proud of itself,” Bird, chuckling, told CTV News.
The bald eagle’s nest, easily visible with binoculars, has been in the tree since 1991 and is popular with birders. Kerry Finley, the sanctuary’s caretaker, lives in a house next to the tree and wasn’t initially aware of the hawklet being there.
“It wasn’t until people started showing up with big cameras that I noticed that there was something amiss in the nest,” he told the Vancouver Sun.
Finley agreed with Bird that the hawklet is extremely confident. “It’s quite something to see the way it is treated,” he said. “The parents are quite attentive. The other birds are keeping their distance — they know it is something different.”
This article was first published by Care2.com on 15 Jun 2017.