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Eagles Adopt Hawk Chick After Bringing it Into the Nest

Bald Eagle Nest

In an exceedingly rare and stunning display of what must be intense parental instinct, a Bald Eagle pair from Nanaimo in British Columbia have seemingly adopted a young Red-tailed Hawk. The shocking interaction was captured on video by Growls, a wildlife organization which monitors eagle nests via live cameras.

The young hawklet was brought to the Bald Eagle nest on the fourth of June, apparently to be served as dinner to the single eaglet within the nest. Observers of the webcam footage believe that the Red-tailed Hawk was saved by a number of unlikely factors. Firstly, few prey items are brought into eagle nests alive. An eagle’s talons are fierce weapons which grip their prey with considerable force. Young hawks are quite delicate and it is miraculous that this one made it into the nest at all. Secondly, the eaglet to whom the hawk was presented showed little interest in this would-be meal, giving the hawk time to save itself.

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Finally, the way in which the young Red-tailed Hawk saved itself was by behaving like the helpless young raptor it is. The video footage shows the young bird seemingly dazed for a while before beginning to cry out and beckon the adult eagle for food and care. This must have activated a parental instinct within the Bald Eagle who reacted by treating the hawklet like her own chick. It is worth noting that the Bald Eagle pair had lost their second chick not long before this incident, and so may have confused this new baby for their own.

Quite shockingly, this unusual adoption is not the first of its kind to be observed. It is not even, in fact, the first to have been documented on camera in British Columbia. In 2017, a pair of Bald Eagles nesting at Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary in British Columbia “adopted” a young Red-tailed Hawk. In this case, the circumstances of the hawk’s appearance in the nest are unknown, and some have suggested that a female hawk may have been eaten in the nest with an unlaid egg inside her body which the eagles incubated after mistaking it for their own. This theory seems far-fetched now considering that we’ve now seen the circumstances by which a young chick can be integrated into the nest. In the 2017 case, the young hawk fledged the nest successfully with no known adverse affects from its “nontraditional” upbringing.

Again in 2019 a Red-tailed Hawk was adopted by eagles in Redding, California. At that time there was some concern that the eagle’s diet, which is comprised mainly of fish, would be insufficient for the hawklet.

Dietary concerns are second, though, to the looming threat of fratricide. Eaglets, like most raptors, can be violent with siblings, especially those which are smaller and weaker than the others. Perhaps this year’s changeling has been aided by the fact that there is only one nestling to contend with meaning much less competition.

In any case, the fact that this phenomenon has been observed on multiple occasions suggests a possibility that adoption may not be an exclusively human concept. While the eagles are likely not acting out of magnanimous pity for their would-be prey, the intensity of the parental instinct can apparently lead to some unusual avian family units. In any case, the young hawklet, nicknamed “Malala” by observers, is beginning to fledge and may just have succeeded as an undercover eagle!

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