How Do Hawks Kill Their Prey?

how do hawks kill their prey

As we all know, hawks are excellent hunters and can spot their prey from high above the ground with their keen eyesight. But, have you ever wondered how a hawk kills its prey?

Hawks and other accipitrids like eagles, will generally use their impressive talons to kill their prey. And sometimes, they might even just use their talons to firmly hold down the prey and start eating it while it’s still alive.

Let’s look at a hawk’s talons more closely.

Understanding How A Hawk’s Talons Work

All hawks have four talons on their feet. Three are forward facing and one faces backward. This gives the raptor the ability to hold things quite firmly as the backward facing talon acts like a thumb on a human hand.

The other distinctive feature of a hawk’s talons are just how sharp they are. The tips of a hawk’s talons are as sharp as a dagger. This means that if a hawk catches a small mammal like a rodent or a small bird, just one stab with a talon can instantly kill the prey.

Apart from the sharpness of the talons, a hawk’s feet also have tendons that can lock into place. Therefore, when hawks catch their prey, not only do they hold it with their sharp talons that likely pierce the skin and flesh, but the locking mechanism in their feet also helps to tighten the bird’s grip.

Many times, the grip can be so firm that it constricts the air flow of the prey and it dies from lack of air or through choking. Quite often, hawks will pound their prey with their talons causing fatal damage to the prey’s organs.

Hawks can also use these super-sharp talons to rip open the bellies of their prey and they will often do this while the prey is still alive. They then proceed to pull out and feast on the innards. Thankfully, the blood loss and organ damage kills the prey fairly quickly when this happens.

So, hawks have the most effective kill weapons and use them to their full advantage when killing and devouring their prey.

What Are Some Of The Common Hunting Methods Used By Hawks?

Hawks use a number of different hunting methods to catch their prey before killing and eating it. Once method is that they will soar in the sky and ride on thermals (also known as circling). This allows them to survey the ground below with their keen eyesight until they spot possible prey.

Once prey is spotted, the hawk may continue to soar for a little while because this stresses out the animals below and they might try to escape. At this point, the hawk will swoop down and latch onto the prey with its sharp talons and it’s all over for animal that is about to become a meal for the hawk.

Another common hunting style that hawks like to engage is to hover over a piece of ground where common prey is likely to be spotted. To hover in the air, a hawk has to flap its wings rapidly. Once the hovering hawk spots its prey, it just pounces down, talons first, to capture the unsuspecting victim.

At other times, a hawk may just find a suitable vantage point high up in a tree and sit and wait. It then uses its keen eyesight to survey the ground below. Once the hawk spots some prey, it swoops downs and catches the prey in its strong talons.

This is one of the most common ways that a hawk will snatch a chicken from a backyard. While hunting, the hawk will sit quietly in a nearby tree all the while observing the chickens below. While observing, it will pick out its prey and then with one foul swoop, the chicken will become a meal for the hungry hawk.

DON’T MISS: Learn how long hawks will stay in one area.

Did You Know That Some Hawks Hunt In Packs?

According to avian ecologist, James Bednarz from the University of North Texas, Harris’s hawks are known to hunt in packs just like wolves. Bednarz conducted some comprehensive studies into the hunting habits of the Harris hawks in the New Mexico desert.

Around 40 hawks were fitted with radio transmitters so that they could be studied while hunting. It was discovered that the birds not only lived together, generally in groups of five, but also hunted together.

During these studies, the hawks were observed perched at various vantage points surveying the ground below. Then, when prey was spotted, they would swoop down from different directions to grab the intended prey. It was observed that if a rabbit went into a burrow, a couple of the hawks would dive into the brush in order to scare the rabbit from its hiding place while the other hawks would be ready to dive on it as soon as it came out.

This co-operation between groups of hawks means that they can collectively take down larger prey especially in winter when small prey was scarce.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do hawks eat prey alive?

Yes, this can happen if the prey does not protest too vigorously. But eventually the prey will die from blood loss or even organ failure.

Do hawks choke their prey?

Hawks will use their strong feet and talons to constrict their prey, effectively cutting off the prey’s air supply.

How fast do hawks attack?

The red-tailed hawk can dive at a speed of 120 miles per hour.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever wondered how hawks kill their prey, you might be surprised to learn that they don’t use their beaks like falcons do but rather, they use their sharp talons like daggers. These talons are sharp enough to pierce through skin and flesh and strong enough to choke their victims to death.

Sometimes, as gruesome as it may seem, hawks will start to devour their prey before the animal is even dead by ripping open its belly and feasting on the innards. Thankfully, this often causes a quick death for the victim.

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