Vancouver Island bald eagles raise red-tailed hawk chick as their own

A red-tailed hawk being raised by a pair of bald eagles on Vancouver Island is about two weeks from leaving the nest — if its three eaglet siblings don't kill it first.

Hawk chick was likely intended as food for the eaglets, expert says

In a case of mistaken identity, a pair of Vancouver Island eagles have been raising a baby red-tailed hawk, alongside three hungry eaglets of their own. (SassePhoto/YouTube)

A red-tailed hawk being raised by a pair of bald eagles on Vancouver Island is about two weeks from leaving the nest — if its three eaglet siblings don't kill it first.

Birdwatchers in Sidney, B.C., are being treated to the rare sight of a pair of nesting bald eagles raising a red-tailed hawk chick alongside three eagle chicks of their own.

David Bird, a retired wildlife biology professor who happens to live nearby, knows of only two or three previously recorded incidents like this.

"It's quite unusual," Bird said. "It's not something that happens every day."

Begging for its life

It's not entirely clear how the hawk chick ended up in the nest, which has been used by bald eagles in the area for almost 25 years, but Bird has a theory: it was intended to be a meal for the eaglets.

It's good drama. It's like a soap opera.- David Bird, retired wildlife biology professor

"The pair of bald eagles likely raided a nest of red-tailed hawks ... and they grabbed one, two, three, who knows how many red-tailed hawk chicks and brought them back to their nest to feed their young," Bird said, noting that bald eagles are notorious for harassing red-tailed hawks.

Bird said the hawk chick, not realizing the danger it was in, likely began begging for food, and the eagles' parental instincts kicked in.

"What happened in this case is that the hormonal drive to feed the young, a begging young, overrode the hormonal drive to kill it and give it as food to one of its eaglets," Bird said.

Serious sibling rivalry

Bird said things have been going well for the hawk so far, but that could change abruptly if the parents don't keep the much larger eaglets well fed.

"Right now everybody's getting along just fine," Bird said. "But here's the problem: maybe any time now, [one of the eaglets] could decide that, I'm hungry. You're small and you're weak, and I'm going to basically kill you and eat you right now. That happens even with eaglets among themselves."

But Bird says the young hawk has time on its side. It will fledge — that is, leave the nest — before the eaglets do, likely within the next two weeks by Bird's estimation.

"If he gets out of the nest and away from the youngsters and they don't leave for another two weeks after him and they're stuck in the nest, then he'll be safe from his siblings," Bird said.

In the meantime, local wildlife enthusiasts continue to watch with bated breath.

"It's good drama," Bird said. "It's like a soap opera. It's going to be interesting to see how it all unfolds."

With files from Megan Thomas.