B.C. hawk-eagle encounter remains a mystery

Red-tailed Hawk

In the late spring of 2017, a nestling Red-tailed Hawk made the news in the nest of Bald Eagles.  

The nest, both parents, three nestling eaglets, and originally two Red-tailed Hawklets at a known eagle’s nest in Sidney, British Columbia, Canada, was the subject of interest at Shoal Harbor Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Vancouver Island.

As recorded, the second nestling red-tail disappeared and was suspected that it may have died due to transport injury, infection or starvation. Eagles have a difficult enough time locating food for one or two young, let alone their three and two other species. 

It was also a mystery about how the hawklets arrived in the nest, possible that the female of an area Red-tail deposited the eggs in the eagle’s nest. Shoal Harbor is not hawk habitat and the hawks hunt more than a kilometer away. 

An area resident observed them twice in the sanctuary, which prompted the suspicion of a possible egg dump.

It was strongly felt that the pair of eagles brought both hawklets to their nest as a food source for the eaglets. However, raptors are well known to feed any begging bird in the nest, which is why songbirds will nest in the same tree as a raptor for purposes of protection.  

The hawklets would have begged frequently to be fed at their tender age. 

Photos were obtained of the nestling hawk being fed by both parents, and the young bird had no qualms about protecting its food as it became older by mantling. This means that the raptor spread its wings to “hide” what it had in its interest.  

The three nestling eaglets did their best to take what was there, but the hawklet was in survival mode and copied the actions of its eaglet “siblings,” even though its was a fraction of their size.

Eagles in a coastal region such as Vancouver will feed their young fish due to availability. The hawklet did well on this diet and appeared in very good condition throughout its time in the nest.  

Writer observed a photo of the bird tearing at flounder remains, while it held the fish steady with its talons.

This scenario is not unusual, as young Red-tails have been raised by eagles in Michigan, Washington state and southern British Columbia. Some of these eggs were laid in the nest by the hawk.

Affectionately coined as “Spunky,” this suspected male fledged June 23 and later returned to the nest to be fed, as is common. Witnesses indicated that feedings occurred outside the nest.

Eagles and hawks are classic mortal enemies. The young Red-tailed Hawk retained some of its natural characteristics, but was obviously imprinted upon the Bald Eagle and shared many of the mannerisms.

Spunky was never banded in order to track his later progress so was never knowingly heard from again. It is possible that he could have migrated, though many hawks generally do not leave their natal territories like eagles. Adult eagles require a three-mile square territory. 

Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

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