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Q&A: Sibling Aggression at the Red-tailed Hawk Cam

April 26, 2012

We have received many inquiries from people wondering why the oldest chick in the Red-tailed Hawk nest is repeatedly pecking its nestmate, as seen on our live cam. Please read the Q&A below.

1. Why is one nestling picking on the other?

This is a natural behavior for nestlings of some bird species, including Red-tailed Hawks. In some cases, the aggression may be a way for the birds to tussle and hone their skills, such as when kittens or puppies in a litter tumble about and fight. In other cases, especially when food is scarce, aggression may result from competition for food.
2. Will the nestlings be OK?

Sometimes behaviors that look alarming, such as repeated pecking, do not result in serious injury. In one study of captive hawks, observers noted pecking and fighting among nestlings seven days after hatching, but aggression had completely disappeared within two weeks of hatching. Other studies have documented intense aggression, particularly during food shortages, resulting in one sibling killing another. Because prey is abundant in the area, we hope that all three young will survive.

3. I’m horrified by what I’m seeing. Why don’t you shut the camera off?

We understand that people often feel upset when they witness events in nature such as predation, fighting, injury, or death. If we observe serious injury and distress, we will redirect our web page to an interim page that provides information about what is happening and that enables people to choose whether or not they wish to continue watching. However, because this is a live cam broadcasting in real time, it is possible that viewers will see upsetting events. Viewers must decide for themselves whether they are comfortable enough with this possibility. If not, they may wish to stop visiting the cam page.

The hawk cam is an opportunity to see an intimate, 24/7 view of nature as it is. The lives of these birds have touched and inspired hundreds of thousands of people. As in real life, however, nature shows us beautiful and profound moments, as well as moments that seem tragic or difficult to comprehend at times. At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we look to nature as our teacher. We hope that you, like us, will choose to watch, question, and learn from what we see.


Do you have more questions? Because of the high volume of email we receive, we cannot respond to every inquiry. However, we will do our best to respond to frequently asked questions submitted to our “Ask an Expert” email box.