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Do Hawks Attack and Eat Cats? What You Need To Know!

Kathryn Copeland

This is a scary thought for any owner of an outdoor cat. Maybe you’ve heard stories about large raptors carrying off small pets. After all, they go after wildlife like rabbits, which can be the size of a young adolescent cat.

But do hawks actually eat cats? While hawks won’t go out of their way to attack and eat a cat, particularly since cats are generally larger than their normal prey, they will go after a cat if they are hungry enough and have the opportunity.

But there are some procedures to prevent this from happening, and rest assured it is a rare occurrence.

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The Hawk

Hawks are raptor birds, which fall into the same category as eagles, owls, falcons, kites, and even vultures. The raptor is also known as a bird of prey, which means it pursues and hunts other animals for food.

We will focus on the red-tailed hawk as they are the most common hawks in North America. You can typically see them circling high in the sky (usually over a field) or sitting on telephone poles as they keep a sharp eye out for dinner.

Harris Hawk
Image Credit: TheOtherKev, Pixabay

Interesting fact: the red-tailed hawk has such a distinctive and recognizable cry that it’s used for almost every raptor bird on the silver screen. This means that if there’s an eagle in the movie you’re watching and you hear it scream, it’s more than likely a recording of the red-tailed hawk.

While these birds are some of the largest in North America, they tend to only weigh about 3 pounds (the females are actually larger than the males), which makes it much more unlikely that they can carry away your cat.

The Hawk’s Diet

The average prey of the hawk typically weighs anywhere from less than a pound up to or a little more than 5 pounds.

The most common prey include:

  • Mice
  • Voles
  • Ground squirrels
  • Snowshoe hares
  • Jackrabbits
  • Woodrats
  • Rabbits
Hawk Hunting
Image Credit: Hemprabha, Wikimedia Commons

The red-tailed hawk will also eat carrion (animals that are already dead), snakes, and other birds (which can be blackbirds, bobwhites, pheasants, and starlings).

You will not find pets on these lists since they really are not a typical part of the hawk’s diet. It’s important to understand the hawk and what it eats, as this will help you to keep your cat safe.

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Protecting your Cats

First of all, if you are aware of raptors in your area, particularly if you’ve heard about pets being attacked, keeping your cat inside is one of the safest things you can do.

However, there are steps you can take if you want your cat to remain an outdoor cat.

1. Supervision

If your cat is young, tiny, or a senior, you should sit outside and keep her under supervision. Most hawks wouldn’t attempt to take a larger cat. So, as long as your cat is about 5 pounds or under, keep an eye on her. If the hawk can see you from the air, it will be much less likely to go after your cat. Therefore, be sure you’re not sitting under a tree or umbrella.


2. Only Feed Inside

You should only feed your cat indoors as a cat that is eating will be less likely to be aware of being hunted by a hawk. Hawks are completely silent and swift when hunting. While our cats have heightened awareness, they won’t necessarily know that a hawk is attacking until it’s too late. Plus, putting food in your yard will attract other animals that could also bring hawks to your yard. Essentially, your backyard could become a hunting ground for a hawk.

cat eating_Shutterstock_Krakenimages
Image Credit: Krakenimages, Shutterstock

3. Time of Day

Hawks hunt throughout the day and are more likely to attack in the early morning and late afternoon. They are also much more aggressive hunters during the winter when food is scarcer. If you only let your cat out in the evenings, it’s not likely there will be any issues with hawks. But if you have a problem with coyotes in your area, going out at night is not a good time for your cat, either.


4. Light Repellents

If you place objects that reflect the light around your backyard, it will confuse and deter a hawk from hunting there. You can use reflective tape (which can also be placed on your windows to prevent birds colliding into the glass) on the material in your yard, or even just hang some old CDs around your garden.


5. Clean Up Your Yard

If you have debris and junk in your yard, smaller animals, even snakes, might take up residence. Just like feeding your cat outside, this debris will potentially create a hunting ground for a hawk. If you avoid making a haven for wildlife that will naturally draw a hawk, your cat should be much safer.


6. Enclosure

You can build an enclosure for your cat that could be connected to a window by tunnels.

There are also “catios” that can be attached to your house. This will allow your cat to enjoy the outdoors without fear of predators, plus it will keep your backyard birds safe from your cat.


7. Avoid Low Bird Feeders

If you feed birds in your yard, remove any low feeders and avoid feeding birds on the ground. Birds that forage for food on the ground are more likely to attract the attention of a hawk.

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Conclusion

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects red-tailed hawks in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Russia. This means it’s illegal to capture and kill hawks. If you suspect there’s a hawk patrolling your area, just be sure to either keep your cat inside or sit outside in plain view and supervise.

It’s simply the circle of life. Hawks eat birds and animals to survive and have the same instincts as any hunter – including your cat. If you take the proper steps and ensure your yard is (mostly) free of the hawk’s natural prey, your cat should remain safe. Always keep in mind that it is wise to take steps to keep your cat safe, but it is quite rare for a hawk to attack a cat.

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Featured Image: Kevinsphotos, Pixabay

Kathryn Copeland

Kathryn was a librarian in a previous lifetime and is currently a writer about all things pets. When she was a child, she hoped to work in zoos or with wildlife in some way, thanks to her all-consuming love for animals. Unfortunately, she's not strong in the sciences, so she fills her days with researching and writing about all kinds of animals and spends time playing with her adorable but terribly naughty tabby cat, Bella. Kathryn is hoping to add to her family in the near future – maybe another cat and a dog.