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What Do Hawks Eat? What You Need to Know

Hawks eating_ photoshooter2015_shutterstock

As you may know, hawks are considered to be birds of prey. This means that they are carnivores that eat carrion (dead animals) or animals that they hunt. In this article, we will discuss the hawk’s diet more in-depth by addressing various hawk species and habitats, the typical diet of the hawk, and strategies for protecting your backyard from these predators.

divider-birdsHawk Species and Habitats

There are over 200 species of hawk throughout the world, including about 25 species here in the United States. They have various types of habitats in many different climates, so the type of food they typically feed on depends heavily on what’s available in their area. Most commonly, hawks tend to live in open areas such as fields and deserts, where prey is easier to spot. However, they can also be found in woodlands, wetlands, rainforests, and even urban areas. Below, we will discuss a few of the most common hawk species that can be found in North America.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk_Pixabay
Image credit: Pixabay

The red-tailed hawk is the most well-known species of hawk on the continent. They can be identified by their namesake, their brownish-red tail. They are commonly found in almost every state in the U.S. except for Alaska, Hawaii, and North Dakota. As you might expect based on how common they are, they can be found across many different types of habitats.


Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk_Pixabay
Image credit: Pixabay

The Cooper’s hawk is a medium-sized bird that can be found in woodlands. Like the red-tailed hawk, they are found in most U.S. states, but they are not as ubiquitous as the red-tailed hawk. Their populations decreased in the 1900s, possibly due to pesticides, but they have started to recover and now have a stable population.


Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk_Pixabay
Image credit: Pixabay

If you are looking for a ferruginous hawk, you are likely to find one in prairies, deserts, and grasslands. They prefer open spaces, where they can easily swoop down to catch their prey. They are most commonly found in the southwestern United States, in places such as Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. This species is considered to be threatened due to habitat loss and hunting.


Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson Hawks side view_ Laurie E Wilson_Shutterstock
Image credit: Laurie E Wilson, Shutterstock

The Swainson’s hawk is considered to be a long-distance migrant who does its breeding in the Western United States during the spring and summer but travels down to South America come fall and winter. When in North America, it is most commonly found in the grasslands and plains of the west, ranging from the Dakotas to Texas, Nevada, Idaho, and even Oregon. The Swainson’s hawk has started to decline in population for reasons that are not yet well understood.

NEW eagle dividerThe Typical Hawk Diet

As you can see, a hawk’s habitat varies quite a bit depending on its location. Therefore, not every hawk species has a diet that is exactly the same. However, there are some patterns in the hawk’s typical diet that can be seen for the most part across all species. Hawks often feed on small mammals such as squirrels, hares, gophers, prairie dogs, rabbits, and chipmunks; rodents such as mice, voles, and rats; amphibians such as frogs and salamanders; reptiles such as snakes, turtles, and lizards; and various insects.

Some hawk species, such as the Cooper’s hawk, even specialize in eating other birds. The Cooper’s hawk often eats medium-sized birds such as jays and robins. The sharp-shinned hawk, a small hawk also native to the United States, eats almost exclusively other birds.

Protecting Your Backyard From Hawks

Many hawk species are opportunistic eaters, which means they will eat whatever is available. This could be bad news for birds and other creatures in your backyard. Before you get too worried, you should remember that eating birds is natural for hawks and is a perfectly normal part of the food chain. A hawk is unlikely to wipe out your bird population altogether as it will only eat what it needs.

If you still want to protect your local birds from becoming a local hawk’s prey, there are a few different things you can try:

  • Provide your birds with a shelter where they can hide. Try to keep the shelter near your bird feeders so that the birds can quickly move to the shelter if necessary.
  • Avoid low feeders or ground feeding, as birds that feed on the ground tend to be more vulnerable to an attack.
  • Keep a hawk’s food sources at a minimum. Understand that birds are not the only potential prey attracting a hawk to your yard. If you regularly feed birds with birdseed, make sure to keep extra birdseed properly stored in an airtight container so that you aren’t attracting rodents.
  • Temporarily stop feeding your birds so that the hawk is forced to move onto another hunting area.

divider-birdsFinal Thoughts

Hawks are carnivores that will often eat just about anything to survive. If you have noticed that you have a resident hawk who has been stalking your yard to feed on local birds, there are some steps you can take to try and get rid of your hawk. However, you shouldn’t forget that while these birds seem like a menace, they are merely doing their job of keeping other populations in check.


Featured Image Credit: Photoshooter2015, Shutterstock

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