Bald eagle defies nature by adopting, not eating, baby hawk
A phenomenon rarely documented in nature is playing out in Sidney, B.C., where a bald eagle has taken a baby hawk once earmarked for dinner under its wing.
The birds are usually fierce rivals, and that’s why biologists were stunned when they recently spotted a four-and-a-half-week old red-tailed hawk feeding from a bald eagle’s beak.
Experts say eagles most likely snatched the baby hawk from its nest with the intention of serving it as food to their eaglets – but something unbelievable happened.
“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,” said Dr. David Bird of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, a group that has been monitoring the nest.
It was those desperate squawks that may have triggered the mother eagle’s instinct to feed rather than eat the hawk.
“The hormonal drive of the parent to feed the young basically took precedence over the possibility of it killing the little hawk to feed its youngsters. So it saw the begging young, started giving it food, and now it’s got to the stage where it begs for food very, very well.”
The hawk is roughly half the age and a quarter of the size of the three eaglets it shares a nest with.
The discovery of the feathered foster family is an important one because it’s only been witnessed a handful of times in nature, according to Bird.
“It’s extremely rare for this kind of thing to happened. I know it’s been documented two or three times sort of in the history of science,” he said.
While the baby hawk has so far defied incredibly long odds, it’s not out of the woods yet.
The hawk will likely attempt to take flight into the world in the next week or so – but that’s if it even gets out at all.
“The thing is with birds and most wildlife, there aren’t any emotional attachments in these situations. Those eaglets do not regard this little hawk as their brother or sister,” said Bird. “So if for some reason things get a little tight in the nest in terms of food, 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.’”
But if the hawk does make it out of the nest, it could have a fighting chance.
“Then it’s agile enough that it might be able to escape being nailed by one of the eaglets,” said Bird.
The Hancock Foundation will continue to monitor the nest and post updates on its website.