A young red-tailed hawk is being raised by bald eagles in BC

Photo by Nora Flower / Island Rambles

In an unlikely tale of overcoming adversity, a young hawk that was meant to become a meal for baby eagles is now somehow thriving as a member of the family instead.

The baby hawk showed up in the Vancouver Island eagles’ nest in June, presumably as an intended meal, but somehow managed to convince a family of bald eagles that he was one of them. Instead of rolling over and surrendering, the hawk, nicknamed Spunky, began begging for food from the eagle parents — and surprisingly, they decided to give it to him.

“This guy thinks he is a bald eagle and I think that is what helped him survive,” Dr. David Bird, a wildlife biologist and director of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, told the CBC.

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Normally, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles don’t get along, to put it mildly — eagles often eat hawks — but Dr. Bird believes that the hawk’s begging for food tapped into the eagles’ parental instincts. “My guess is that this little guy begged loud and hard for food—not even thinking about the danger,” he told the Vancouver 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.'”

When the situation first arose, scientists didn’t have high hopes for Spunky’s survival, but he has managed to beat the odds. “Initially I thought he can’t survive in this nest. One of his siblings would just simply put a foot on him and that would be the end of him,” David Hancock, a wildlife biologist who studies bald eagles, told the CBC. However, the hawk has managed to thrive, growing to its full size — which is admittedly much smaller than the size of his eagle counterparts.

There is still some risk that he could be eaten by his siblings, Dr. Bird told the Sun. If the eaglets fledge first and find it difficult to hunt, they may decide to take advantage of what’s right in front of them (a situation which may make the rest of us feel better about our own families). However, Spunky has been living up to his name and observers have said he is behaving assertively.

Assuming good familial relations are maintained, the next challenge, Dr. Bird says, is for the hawk to learn how to get its own food, and he may have to do it without instruction. While bald eagles eat a lot of fish, hawks tend to hunt small rodents. But if he does become unable to feed himself, he will likely be captured and brought to the local bird sanctuary.