Thursday July 27, 2017

B.C. hawk raised by bald eagles thrives in rare inter-species family

The young red-tailed hawk has been delighting bird-watchers in Sidney since he was first spotted in the eagle's nest.

The young red-tailed hawk has been delighting bird-watchers in Sidney since he was first spotted in the eagle's nest. (Lynda Robson)

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Story transcript

Originally, the little red-tailed hawk was likely meant as a meal for young eaglets in their nest in Sidney, B.C. But shockingly, the hawk has been accepted as a rather strange looking member of the growing bald eagle family.

When As It Happens last checked in on them, bird-watchers were worried that the eagles would turn on the much smaller hawk, and kill it.

'The big challenge [is] not to get too friendly with other eagles.' - David Hancock

Instead, the hawk seems to be thriving, and is now taking its own solo flights. However, the hardest days might still be ahead for the small creature.

David Hancock has been watching the young hawk grow. He's also the director of the Hancock Wildlife foundation. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

The last time we checked in on this little bird he was just a hatchling. What's he up to now?

Our little hawklet ... is doing incredibly well. He not only grew full-size in the nest but a little over two weeks ago he started to leave the nest. He has been out exploring the neighbourhood. We've watched him go over a mile away, and come back again. 

We all had pretty bleak hopes for him [but] he grew to be huge, a full dynamic size of nearly two pounds. His siblings, his eaglet siblings, the female ones, the baby eaglets, are twelve pounds! How he has survived ... the odds are not great.

How are they getting along now?

They're all flying.

They are in this stage where they're each exploring more and more distance from the nest every day so their interactions directly with each other is more dispersed because they're not right on top of each other.

This little character, last Saturday, when I was there I was watching him and mom had brought in part of a flounder to the nest. The three eagles were on the nest — the hawklet came up behind them, ran literally underneath them while they'd been eating for about five minutes tearing what was left of this little flounder apart — he grabbed the flounder, took off in the nest with it ... He got away with stealing their food [which is] just kind of brave and courageous. 

Do you think there is somewhere instinctively he realizes he's not an eagle?

I think part of the instinctive behaviours is how he'd be grappling with small mammals, which is most of the food of red-tailed hawks ... but red-tails, like eagles, also readily exploit road-kill, so finding a dead squirrel is kind of built into his psyche. That's a good thing because road-kill, bunnies, or squirrels ... are going to be important, it is what these birds partially do. But ultimately he has to learn how to catch voles and mice.

What are the other risks to this little guy given that he hasn't learned from hawks?

The big danger [is] he was raised by eagles who would normally be predators of red-tailed hawks. Now the big challenges are he's got to not get too friendly with other eagles. Fortunately for him, most of the other eagles are just leaving the country ... so he won't encounter a lot of eagles. But can he get along with fellow red-tails? 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with David Hancock.