A Pair of Bald Eagles Adopted the Offspring of Their Mortal Enemy

Fagjun | Published 2017-06-24 05:56

The red-tailed hawk hatchling, right, looks out over the edge of the eagle nest.
[Photo by Suzanne Huot]

Bald eagles are raising a baby red-tailed hawk, a species thought to be the eagles' mortal enemy.

There's no love lost between eagles and hawks. As birds of prey, both species are often in competition with one another. There's even video footage from some years ago of a bald eagle and a red-tailed hawk locked in mortal combat. Obviously, these two species aren't too friendly with each other, and positive interactions between the two are very rare.

Like characters out of a children's film, however, a bald eagle pair has taken in an orphan red-tailed hawk chick. The eagles are raising the little hawk alongside their own three hatchlings. In another situation, there's a chance that the mother eagle will turn the orphan chick into food instead of another gaping maw to feed. However, scientists say that the mother eagle's maternal instincts may have won out in the end.

Why Bald Eagles Adopted A Baby Hawk

A bald eagle pair tending to their hatchling. Eagles don't often adopt the young of other bird species.
[Photo by the Associated Press]

If you're an abandoned baby bird and you're squawking loudly for food, there's a chance that it won't end well for you. There's a chance that you'll draw the attention of a predator. However, there's also a chance that your life will be like a Disney movie and your mortal enemy will look upon you with kindness. Well, maybe not kindness—probably an overdrive of maternal instinct.

There are two theories on how the hawk chick ended up with the bald eagles. It's possible that the mother eagle first intended to make the little hawk its prey. However, when it saw the little bird's upturned beak and heard its cries of hunger, the eagle's maternal instinct took over. The eagle then adopted the hawk as its own.

Another theory on how the orphan bird ended up in the eagles' care is that it ended up in the eagle nest while still in its egg. When it hatched, the eagles may have simply looked on the hatchling as their own.

As of now, the orphan hawk is doing quite well with its eagle family. However, this can change at any time. The little hawk is just about five or six weeks old, while its adoptive eagle siblings are already about 10 or 11 weeks old. The three eaglets in the same nest are growing quite quickly—more quickly than the hawk chick is growing. Since the eaglets are bigger, they may look on the smaller hawk chick as prey once they get hungry enough.

Surviving the Eagle's Nest

A red-tailed hawk nest
[Photo by Thomas O'Neil]

Luckily, hawk hatchlings fly the nest at about 40 days of age. This means that the little hawk may leave the nest soon. However, as of June 22, the Hancock Wildlife Foundation reported that the little hawk is still in the nest.

If push comes to shove, however, there's a chance that the little hawk may be able to hold its own. Though red-tailed hawks are smaller than bald eagles, they can put up quite a fight. The hawks are just about a quarter of the eagles' size, but they're feisty and aggressive. Let's hope, however, that this strange and heart-warming tale of interspecies adoption will have a happy ending.

Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!