Bird experts surprised after bald eagle ‘adopts’ red-tailed hawk on Vancouver Island
A bald eagle raising its own offspring has taken another species under its wing and the mixed family has left bird experts baffled.
The rare wildlife drama plays out with a baby red-tailed hawk appearing to live in harmony with a male and female bald eagle and three eaglets.
Eagles are known to eat smaller, weaker birds like hawks; that’s why the eagle’s nest in a Sidney neighbourhood is drawing a lot of attention from birdwatchers.
“This rates as the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in the world of birds of prey,” biologist David Bird said.
Bird is a retired university professor and board member for the Hancock Wildlife Foundation. He happens to live near the eagle’s nest in question.
“These parents essentially adopted this little guy and as they kept feeding him with lots of food, he’s grown up a little bit now and he’ll be leaving the nest in about a week and a half,” Bird said.
How this happened remains a mystery. Similar occurrences have been recorded but only a handful of times, according to Bird.
“It would require either the eagle to bring them to the nest or the alternative was the hawk somehow laid her eggs in the nest when he was absent,” independent biologist Kerry Fisher said.
The most common theory among biologists is that the mother eagle ‘kidnapped’ the hawk to feed it to her eaglets, according to Bird.
“Because hormones are driving these birds to do what they do it, the hormonal urge to mother it and feed it overtook its urge to kill it and feed it to the other eaglets,” Bird said.
Local birdwatchers have been keeping an eye on the hawk in the nest for over a week. Just when they thought this couldn’t get any more surreal, a local photographer captured a photo that seems to show two hawks in the nest.
“I was indeed stunned to find out that there were two red-tailed hawks instead of one at one point… and nobody else that I’m aware of has seen the two hawks so it’s an open question as to whether one survived,” Fisher said.
Bird and Fisher said the nest has been there for about 25 years and has generated a lot of interest.
“The locals walk by as they’re walking, look up… I ask the dog every day do you see the birds, do you see the birds?” resident Howard Martinson said.
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Now the nest is generating a lot of questions.
“I would love to know what happens to [the hawk] a couple years from now whether he’s alive or raising young of his own, I would love to know that,” Bird said.
Perhaps the biggest question, he says, is whether the eaglets can continue to see a hawk as a brother and not breakfast.