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Air Fight

American Bald Eagle and a Red-tailed Hawk fight

By Sandra RustPublished 2 years ago 6 min read
American Bald Eagle and a Red-tailed Hawk fight

Hawks, Accipiters, and Eagles are more closely related to each other than to Falcons. They are all in family Accipitridae. Eagles and red-tailed hawks do not get along, and have been known to fight each other to the death. Red tailed hawks are Savage Hunters.

It was late February, while looking for nature photos on a hike, I ran across an Eagle's nest. I saw one of the Eagles in the nest, and the other must have been out hunting for din din. I saw a large red-tailed hawk try to attack the Eagle in the nest. The eagle on the nest cried out, and it wasn't seconds later that the mate arrived in a furry. The mate flew out of the tree swiftly and in a complete vertical flight dive bombed the Hawk. The Hawk was unable to immediately fly away because the Eagle went for it's tail and wings. The Hawk finally managed to escape without harm, unbelievable.

I hear stories of Eagles raising a red-tailed hawk. A young Red-tailed Hawk in British Columbia that was adopted into a nest full of bald eagles. The nest had 3 eaglets, and the hawk began squawking for food, and the bald eagles fed it as one of their own. The Hawk seemingly thrived after taking on eagle-like behavior.

The Red-tailed hawk is the largest hawk species in North America (there are more than 200 worldwide and about 25 species in the U.S.!), the red-tailed hawk can be spotted soaring above rural areas from coast to coast and perching on telephone poles and in open areas with scattered, elevated places.

Red-tailed hawks might be a little slower than ducks or geese, but when they dive, they're lightning fast. When the red-tailed hawk swoops down to catch prey (which it can spot from a distance of 100 feet, the bird dive at a speed of at least 120 miles per hour. On the other hand bald eagles fly 30 mph using powerful wing-beats and even faster when diving after prey. Bald eagles can dive at up to 100 mph. Golden Eagles dive up to 200 mph.

Red-tails pair up for life, and their aerial courtship is much like their territorial displays. Although red-tailed hawks mate for life, it doesn't mean a surviving partner won't go on to mate again, even returning the next season to the breeding territory it knows best.

Bald Eagles, the symbol of the United States, mate for life unless one of the two dies. Their spectacular courtship rituals are a sight to see too, they lock talons, flip, spin, and twirl through the air in a maneuver called a Cartwheel Display. Bald eagles stay hitched until death do they part, often returning year after year to the same nest. While there, the pair continuously adds to the structure, so that after many seasons it assumes gargantuan proportions and stands as a symbol of their fidelity. Monogamy, like all mating strategies, incorporates a rich palate of behaviors and rarely results in complete lifetime sexual fidelity to a single mate.

I found the following FAQ's very interesting about bald eagles:

Credit: Peter E. Nye

New York State Dept. Environmental ConservationDivision of Fish, Wildlife and Marine ResourcesAlbany, NY

How long does the bald eagle live?

A. Typically in the wild probably between 20-30 years. Some eagles in captivity have lived up to 50 years, but in the wild they would not live as long.

Q. How do you determine a bald eagle's age?

A. By plumage until they are 5 years old, then after that you cannot age them.

Q. Does the bald eagle mate with different kinds of eagles?

A. No.

Q. Do bald eagles have only one mate for life?

A. Typically, yes, although occasionally an intruding adult (not one of the pair) comes in (usually a female) and battles the resident bird for the territory, sometimes then taking over. If one of the pair dies, the other will find a new mate and usually keep going in the same territory.

Q: Do eagles push their young out of the nest to encourage them to fly?

A: No! The adults may withhold food as the eaglets get near fledging, and encourage them to fly to a nearby perch to get their meal, but that's about it. Usually, no coaxing is necessary and the eaglets are all too anxious to test their wings!

Q. If an eaglet falls, will a parent fly below the nest to catch it and carry it back to the nest?

A: No!

Q. Do bald eagles build their nests in low trees?

A. No, nor do they prefer to. Given the option, eagles will choose a "super-canopy" (one rising above the rest) tree with sturdy limbs and a commanding view of the surrounding terrain, which is also always very near to water. Typical nest heights are 50-125 feet high.

Q. How tall do trees have to be for a Bald Eagle to nest in?

A. The higher the better!

Q. Why do bald eagles have such big nests if they only have two eggs?

A. They are large birds and their young become quite large, demanding of lots of space to fit all the birds and their 6 foot plus wings.

Q. About how long does it take for the bald eagle's eggs to hatch and how long until it can fly?

A. It takes 35 days to hatch. The young remain in the nest for another 10-12 weeks until they fledge (fly from

Q. How old are they before young eagles can fly?

A. At 10-12 weeks, when they leave their nest.

Q. When do eagles learn to fly and how?

A. At between 10-12 weeks as they first leave the nest (fledge), and then with more and more practice to and from the nest and surrounding trees over the next month or two.

Q. How old does a baby have to be to leave its mother?

A. 10-12 weeks to leave the nest, although fledglings then often stay around "learning from their parents and honing their flying and feeding skills for another 1-2 months.

Q. How long does it take the eaglet's feathers to turn brown?

A. The feathers are brown as soon as they start to appear, which happens starting at 5 weeks of age; they are pretty well fully feathered by 9 weeks.

Q. How do eagles find their old nest?

A. Since the nests are so large, it's probably pretty easy, especially if they haven't gone too far! I suspect though, that you are asking about birds that migrate long distances to and from their nests. In that case, since eagles are diurnal (daytime) fliers, we believe they use familiar landmarks to guide them to the general area, and once there, use more familiar and specific cues to find their particular lake and then the nest tree. Such cues as extensive mountain ranges or large water bodies or the coastline might first be used. These birds obviously "store" great amounts of information or "memory" of the landscapes in their lives, as they easily move 50 - 100 miles in a winter day in search of food.

Q. Out of twenty eaglets, how many will live to be adults?

A. This varies with the population in question. From our work releasing eagles in New York, about 2.5 adults would survive for every 20 (1 in 8). Mortality is highest for eagles in their first year of life, especially their first six months. The first winter is crucial. Some biologists (two studies) have estimated mortality as high as 72 % within one year of fledging (leaving the nest). Another study estimated that only 11 % of eagles were alive after 3 years of life. In general, we believe that only about 1 in 10 eagles survive to adulthood (5 yrs of age).

Q. How many eggs does an average bald eagle lay in a lifetime?

A. The average bald eagle clutch size is just under 2 eggs/clutch (1.9). If we assume that a female eagle begins nesting at age 5, and lives until she is 25, she will have 20 years of egg-laying. There is no evidence that a healthy eagle reduces egg-laying as she gets older. So 2 eggs/year X 20 years = 40 eggs in her lifetime.

I will always wonder why the Hawk attacked the Eagles nest.


About the Creator

Sandra Rust

I grew up in Lockport, Illinois. Studied graphic design, fine art, & photography at Columbia College Chicago.

Professional photography services in commercial, industrial, nature, lifestyle, portrait, & editorial photography.

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