Eagle-Toddler Video an 'Elaborate Hoax,' Expert Says

Update 5:30 p.m. EST: The video has been confirmed as a hoax created by students at Centre NAD, a school of media technology in Montreal.

An eye-popping video showing a golden eagle snatching a toddler off the ground in Montreal has raised some eyebrows. But experts say the video appears to be a clever YouTube hoax.

"If it's a hoax, it's a good one," Rob Domenech, executive director of the Raptor View Research Institute in Missoula, Mont., initially told LiveScience. However, after repeated viewings, he realized there are several discrepancies in the video — most obviously, the golden eagle's characteristic avoidance of humans.

"It's almost unheard-of for a golden eagle to attack a person, or even a pet, when there are people around," Domenech said. The only exceptions are birds that have spent time in captivity, known as "imprint birds," which are accustomed to human beings and have learned to associate people with food.

Additionally, an adult eagle's talons can exceed 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) in length and would easily have shredded the child's jacket and skin. In the event of an actual attack, the child "would have gone to the hospital," Domenech said. [See Eagle-Toddler Hoax Video]

These facts, plus some irregularities in the wing beats, the coloring of the wing feathers, the predatory screeching sound heard in the video (which Domenech identified as a red-tailed hawk, not an eagle) and other factors led Domenech to conclude the video is a fake. "It's a pretty elaborate hoax," he said.

Other news sources, including MetroNews.ca, have also chimed in, deciding the video is little more than an entertaining fraud.

An adult golden eagle can weigh more than 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) and have a wingspan of about 7.5 feet (2.3 meters). Though they generally dine on smaller prey, an adult golden eagle can easily take down a fully grown pronghorn antelope weighing 100 lbs. (45 kg) and feed on the antelope on the ground. Of course, eagles can also carry off a smaller animal — like the toddler shown in the now-debunked video.

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Marc Lallanilla
Live Science Contributor
Marc Lallanilla has been a science writer and health editor at About.com and a producer with ABCNews.com. His freelance writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and TheWeek.com. Marc has a Master's degree in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.