Biologists and bird enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting updates to see if a red-tailed hawk chick, which is being raised by bald eagles in British Colombia, will make it to adulthood.
Normally, bald eagles and red-tailed hawks are nothing short of bitter rivals. In fact, video from years past have caught the two raptors in gruesome fights. This rare positive interspecies interaction by the two rival birds of prey has only been observed in the region twice before, according to accounts from local experts.
The red-tailed hawk chick is being fed alongside three larger bald eagle chicks by the eagle parents in a nest atop a Douglas fir tree inside the Shoal Harbor Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
One bird expert involved with monitoring the nest believes it may have been the bald eagle's maternal instinct that spurred its change of heart.
David Bird, director of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation—a group that has been monitoring the nest—told local outlet Vancouver Sun that the hawk chick's squawking for food may have prompted the mother bald eagle to feed it as one of her own, rather than using it as a food source.
“My guess is that this little guy begged loud and hard for food—not even thinking about the danger," Bird told the 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.'"
In a blog post on his foundation website, David Hancock, an eagle biologist and founder of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, laid out two theories on how the hawk may have arrived in the eagle nest.
First, it's possible that the bald eagle targeted the chick as prey. Bald eagles have been observed feeding on small mammals, but their primary prey are fish, scavenged carrion, or prey stolen from other animals. Once inside the nest, it squawked for food and its upturned beak may have prompted the eagles to adopt it as their own.
Hancock's other theory is that the hawk chick arrived unhatched in the eagles' nest after one of the larger birds snatched up the egg or caught its mother. Such battles are more likely in the spring, when the birds have more mouths to feed.
The Hancock Wildlife Foundation is regularly posting video updates of the nest. While the rare interspecies adoption has captivated many, it may take a less heart-warming turn, experts warn.
Three bald eagle chicks that Hancock estimates to be over nine weeks old and growing much more quickly in the nest. Bird explained to Vancouver news outlet CTV that a fratricide is possible should the eaglets get 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,'" Bird told the news station.
Still, red-tailed hawks usually leave the nest roughly 40 days after hatching, and Hancock estimates that the chick is about four weeks old, meaning it might attempt to fly in the coming week. If the eagles continue to feed the hawk while it learns to hunt and fly, it just might have a chance at survival.