Do Hawks Eat Birds? [Birds That Become Bird Food!]

do hawks eat birds

We know that hawks are majestic birds of prey that like to feed on small mammals such as rabbits, rodents and squirrels. They also like to feast on reptiles such as snakes and lizards. But, have you ever wondered whether hawks eat birds?

Hawks do eat birds and the small birds that visit your backyard feeders are most at risk when there’s a hawk nearby. Primarily, hawks are opportunistic hunters and will happily visit your backyard if they think there’s any easy meal for them. Especially during the winter when small mammals and rodents are less active.

Let’s explore how hawks kill and eat birds.

How Does A Hawk Kill A Bird?

Hawks generally use their very sharp talons to kill their prey. Whether the smaller birds are feeding on the ground or in flight, a hawk is fast and strong enough to grab the bird in its talons. Because these talons are quite sharp, they will usually pierce the body of the smaller bird and kill it.

If the caught bird is slightly larger, it may not die by simply the piercing of the hawk’s talons. In this instance, the hawk will use it sharp beak to literally tear the bird apart. And yes, hawks have been known to start eating their prey while it’s still alive.

Many times though, the hawk will simply grab the bird and fly away with it to feast on it in a safer spot like its nest. While all this may sound somewhat gruesome, it’s part of nature and helps to keep the population balance in check.

It’s also important to note that hawks will generally prey on the oldest and weakest birds first as these will be much easier to catch.

What Are The Most Common Species Of Hawks That Eat Birds?

In suburban backyards, you’re most likely to see Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Goshawks and Sharp Shinned Hawks feasting on smaller birds. The American Kestrel will also prey on birds but it normally does so while in flight. Therefore, you’re unlikely to see this raptor near your bird feeders but you may spot it high in the sky over your backyard.

These species of hawks have become comfortable with being around humans and have learned that there are easy food sources available in many suburban backyards where the residents have put out bird feeders. These bird feeders attract many small birds that a hawk is capable of grabbing as prey.

Additionally, native habitats are slowly being destroyed as more development occurs. This has meant that these hawks, that normally prefer to live and hunt in forests, have had to find other areas where they can find suitable prey.

What Type Of Birds Do Hawks Eat?

In general, hawks will prey on birds that are smaller in size than the hawk. These include sparrows, finches and many different species of songbirds. These small birds are preferred by smaller accipiters such as the Cooper’s hawk and the Sharp Shinned hawk.

Larger hawks are also like to prey on birds that are a little larger such as doves, pigeons, grouse, ducks and chickens. The Northern goshawk is quite capable of feeding on these slightly larger birds.

How Can You Protect Your Backyard Birds From Hawks?

Although having a hawk visit your backyard and prey on some of the small birds that visit your feeders is just part of the circle of life, you might find this disturbing and want to protect your visiting birds from these raptors. If this is the case, there are a number of things that you can do to protect the smaller birds from becoming prey to a visiting hawk.

1. Provide Shelter For Smaller Birds

Remember that hawks have keen eyesight and will sit high up in the trees to look for prey below. Therefore, if they’re unable to see the birds around your feeder, they won’t be able to prey on them.

Consider placing your feeders near dense shrubs or trees so that the smaller birds can quickly dive for cover if a hawk threatens to attack. Ideally, your feeders should be no more than 10 feet away from dense cover. You could even plant shrubs that produce berries and seeds that the smaller birds can feed on. This way, they can feast on these seeds and berries in complete safety.

Another thing you can do is to shield your feeders from above so that the hawks are not able to see the birds feeding. You could cover the feeder with a large umbrella or place it under an awning or gazebo. Consider also hanging your feeders under the canopy of tall trees as this will shield the view from above.

2. Don’t Encourage Ground Feeding

Birds that like to feed on the ground such as sparrows, doves and quail are vulnerable and more likely to be attacked by an overhead hawk. Therefore, refrain from scattering seed on the ground for these birds.

Instead, consider installing a feeding table that you place seed on and have a cover over the table so that the hawks are unable to easily see it.

3. Use Cage Feeders

There are many types of feeders that have a cage around them where the smaller birds can perch and feed while being protected from birds of prey. You could even build a wire cage yourself to put around your existing feeders.

This way the smaller birds can feed in peace while the hawks cannot get to them.

4. Remove Your Feeders For A Short Time

If you’ve noticed the regular presence of a hawk, it means that the raptor is aware that your yard offers an easy food source. Therefore, consider taking down the feeders for a week or two.

If its food supply has dried up, the hawk will lose interest and move away to find another spot where it can easily find some prey to feed on.

Don’t worry though, because the smaller birds will soon return once you place the feeders back out again. However, it may take some time for a hawk to come back and rediscover the easy food sources in your backyard.

5. Make Sure You Prevent Window Collisions

Birds of any size cannot identify a glass window. All they see is the reflection in the glass and hence, they may see the window as a quick escape route. This means that small birds who are trying to escape from a hunting hawk may accidentally fly into one of your windows and a stunned bird is easy prey for a hawk.

To avoid this happening, add decals to your windows or attach screens to the outside. This will not only protect the smaller birds but it will also protect the hawk from accidentally flying into a window while it’s pursuing its prey.

It’s Best Just To Let Nature Take Its Course

Hawks are magnificent birds and deserve to feed as much as other birds do. So, if you can bring yourself just to accept the circle of life and learn to live with visiting hawks, you might be awed by their presence.

Remember that these birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Act and it’s against the law to harm them in any way. However, if you do have a particularly aggressive hawk maybe nesting in your yard, you can contact your local wildlife management officials who can assess the situation and determine whether the bird should be moved to a safer location.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What kind of birds do hawks eat?

Hawks will generally eat birds that are far smaller than themselves. This includes quail and songbirds.

Are birds afraid of hawks?

Any small birds that commonly hang around your yard are generally terrified of hawks. This includes even baby birds.

How do birds know when a hawk is near?

Usually, one bird will spot the hawk and let out an alarm. This will alert all the other birds that there is a hawk in the area and they should dash for cover.

Is it good to have a hawk in your yard?

While hawks will eat small birds, they also feast on rodents, snakes, gophers and other nuisance wildlife. Therefore, they help to keep the natural balance in any ecosystem.

Final Thoughts

Hawks do eat birds as part of their diet. It’s part of the normal cycle of life and many times, a hawk is more likely to capture an older or weaker bird to have as a meal. Apart from birds, many hawks also feed on small mammals, rodents, lizards, snakes and large insects.

There are a small number of hawk species that are now commonly seen in suburban areas due to a loss of their natural habits. The increase of visiting hawks can also be attributed to more people putting out bird feeders for the local bird population.

There are numerous things that you can do to protect smaller birds in your yard from becoming prey to a hawk. Alternatively, you can just accept it as part of the natural ecosystem and who knows, you might even be able to catch one of these majestic raptors on camera.

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