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Two Bald Eagles Have ‘Adopted’ a Young Red-Tailed Hawk

Fake it ‘til you make it.

It’s bald eagle fledging season! Birdwatchers everywhere are glued to their binoculars and webcams, watching as what started as insular family dramas turn into coming-of-age sagas.

This season’s most dramatic plotline belongs to a seaside nest in Sidney, British Columbia. A pair of bald eagles there are raising up a red-tailed hawk—normally a rival species—alongside their own three chicks, the Vancouver Sun reports.

A heartfelt attempt to help out some neighbors? Probably not. The eagles likely kidnapped the baby hawk, intending to feed it to their own children, raptor specialist David Bird told the Sun. When it survived the trip and started peeping, they just started feeding it instead. (This theory is supported by retroactive photo evidence, which indicates that there were once at least two hawk chicks in the nest.)

A young red-tailed hawk takes food from its accidental guardian, a mature bald eagle.
A young red-tailed hawk takes food from its accidental guardian, a mature bald eagle. Christian Sasse/Youtube

A video by Christian Sasse shows the brave youngster, which is smaller and scruffier than its adoptive siblings, gleefully taking food from the bloody beak of one of its parents. Observers say the hawk is more than able to fend for itself—and that at times, the eagle chicks even seem to defer to it, the Sun reports. (Sadly, there is no online stream available for this particular nest.)

But the young interloper isn’t safe just yet. Sometime in the next few days, all the chicks will begin learning to fly and hunt on their own, says Bird. They’ll return to the nest at nighttime, and their size differences may grow even more noticeable.

At that point, all bets are off for the hawk, says Bird: “[The eaglets] may change their minds and decide to eat this little guy.” No one ever said adolescence was easy.

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to cara@atlasobscura.com.