Last month, news broke that bald eagle parents had adopted a seemingly orphaned red-tailed hawk chick. Now, new information from the Hancock Wildlife Foundation tells us that the little hawk is thriving—but it has seemingly forgotten that it's a hawk.
Hawks and eagles are, for lack of a more scientific term, mortal enemies. The fact that the eagle parents had adopted a baby from their enemy species was surprising to scientists. The eagles had their own young, and it's possible that the mother's maternal instincts took over. Otherwise, the eagles would have killed the little hawk on sight.
Biologists feared that the hawk chick could still be in danger living among larger members of an enemy species. The eagles might suddenly realize that the hawk wasn't one of them, and was in fact easy prey. Luckily, however, there's a happy update from the people monitoring the hawk's situation.
It seems that the hawk's adoptive eagle family has fully accepted the hawk as their own. Scientists had feared the worst case scenarios—for example, the hawk's adoptive eagle siblings may kill him. However, so far, the hawk has stayed alive and well.
The new problem now, however, is that the hawk may be acting too much like an eagle and not enough like a hawk. “This guy has definitely imprinted on bald eagles, and thinks he’s a bald eagle,” says David Bird, a raptor specialist. This, of course, is unsurprising. After all, the hawk does live among eagles.
It seems that baby animals raised by another species are prone to behaving in ways characteristic of their adoptive species. Scientists have the same fears about a baby leopard adopted by a lioness. Lions and leopards are also rival species that kill each other's young when given the chance, much like the red-tailed hawk and bald eagle.
The danger for the little hawk now is that it may get too comfortable around bald eagles. Of course, other bald eagles won't be as nice to the hawk as the hawk's adoptive family is. To other eagles, the hawk is just a hawk like any other, and is thus a rival bird. The sooner that the little hawk learns to avoid eagles, the better.
Observers say it's possible that the hawk will learn to be wary of eagles. His adoptive siblings, who are bigger, have been bullying him. The hawk may therefore learn to tread lightly around them and, consequently, other eagles.
David Hancock, founder of Hancock Wildlife Foundation, is hopeful that the hawk's instincts will remind him of his true origins. Already the hawk is swooping down on pine cones and sticks on the forest floor, reminiscent of how young hawks learn how to catch prey. However, the hawk still has yet to begin learning to hunt. Hawks learn how to hunt from their parents, but perhaps there may be a way for the little hawk to learn on its own.
Soon, the eagles will be migrating to Alaska. This means that the hawk's adoptive parents will go first, with the adoptive siblings following soon after. Hawks typically don't migrate, since there's enough prey for them in the area. Will the red-tailed hawk make like a bald eagle and migrate? We'll see in a few weeks.
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