A bald eagle nest by any account is a sight to behold, especially once the adults are joined by their young. On rare occasion, one of the little heads peeping over the top of the nest isn’t an eagle at all, but rather another raptor species! This is exactly what happened recently in Redding, California, causing observers to do a double take to try to understand what they were seeing. Here’s the story in the Redding Record Searchlight.
In addition to two juvenile bald eagles, the nest held a red-tailed hawk chick—which is about one-quarter the size of an eaglet—making for a curious set of nestmates, considering eagles sometimes prey upon redtails! Are the eagles raising their own food?
In fact, this might be exactly how and why the hawk ended up in the nest: The prevailing theory among ornithologists studying this behavior is that one of the adult eagles brought the baby hawk, uninjured, to the nest with the intention of feeding it to the eaglets. However, the hawk likely began begging for food along with the eaglets, triggering the adults’ instinct to feed a begging juvenile, overriding the instinct to kill it.
While uncommon, this situation has been observed several times, including by our own “Watching Bird Behavior” columnist, Dr. David Bird. In a 2017 column, Dr. Bird shared his story of witnessing a pair of bald eagles in British Columbia raising a red-tailed hawk. Revisit his account of trying to solve the mystery of how this could have happened and how a young hawk in this situation could survive living with its predators.