- The hawk, which is usually prey for eagles, is in excellent health after being taken in, and now ‘thinks he’s a bald eagle’, according to one expert
Biologists and bird watchers in Canada are closely monitoring a young red-tailed hawk that has – against all odds – been adopted into a nest full of bald eagles and is seemingly thriving after taking on eagle-like behaviour.
The chick was first seen in the nest in British Columbia in early June, said biologists – possibly after one of the bald eagles raided a hawk’s nest to provide food for their young.
Surrounded by three eaglets and oblivious to his status as prey, the hawk probably began squawking for food, leading the bald eagles to begin feeding it as one of their own.
“My guess is that this little guy begged loud and hard for food – not even thinking about the danger,” David Bird of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, which has been monitoring the nest on Vancouver Island,
told the Vancouver Sun. “Food overrides everything in these birds. He begged away and Mom and Dad said, ‘OK, here’s an open, gaping beak. Let’s put food in it.’”
Bird watchers began regularly visiting the nest, many of them looking on with dread as they waited for the day when the eaglets – who are up to four times bigger than the hawk – would see the small chick as prey. “The fact that it survived so long is absolutely amazing,” said Bird, who believes the hawk is a male. “The bottom line is that he was much smaller, and eagles always prey on things that are weaker than them.”
To the surprise of many the hawk thrived, aided by some unusual survival techniques. “This guy has definitely imprinted on bald eagles, and thinks he’s a bald eagle,” said Bird, an emeritus professor of wildlife biology at McGill University who now lives on Vancouver Island, told the newspaper. “The eaglets that he was raised with seem to have accepted him as another sibling, and the parents seem to have adopted him as their young.”
An abundance of food may have also helped keep the hawk from being seen as prey by the eaglets, along with a streak of aggression – the scrappy chick has been seen stealing food from the eaglets, at times even weaving through their legs to snatch food away.
Believed to be about three months old, the hawk has grown to full size and is in excellent health. The next few weeks will prove crucial to the hawk’s development, said Bird, with biologists watching closely to see if he can figure out how to gather food on his own.
The young hawk has been seen poking at seaweed close to the eagle nest – a typical foraging behaviour for bald eagles. But he’s also been observed swooping to pick up pinecones and sticks, a behaviour often seen in young hawks as they hone the skills needed to hunt rodents and rabbits from high above.
If his unconventional upbringing proves to have fallen short in teaching him how to hunt, said Bird, “that’s when I think we would catch him and retrain him in a wildlife rehabilitation facility”.