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Answering the Age-old Question: Do Hawks Eat Other Birds?


Hawks are fierce and carnivorous birds. They don’t have those sharp talons and hooked beak for nothing! They eat animals, and although we might not like it, some also eat birds.

See this article to learn about the hawks that eat birds, the kinds of birds they hunt, and how you can help keep your backyard birds safe!


Do Hawks Eat Birds?

There are certainly hawks that eat birds. For some species, birds are a normal and necessary part of their diet. For others, they might catch a bird now and then but prefer to eat other prey. For example, the common Red-tailed Hawk is an adaptable species that eats all sorts of small animals.

Related: What do birds eat?

Even so, most of its diet consists of mammals and some reptiles. They especially like to catch rodents, squirrels, rabbits, and small snakes.

This means that if we see a Red-tailed Hawk soaring above or perched in the backyard, it’s probably more interested in catching squirrels than “your birds.”

That’s not to say Red-tailed Hawks won’t catch the occasional bird, but they usually prefer other prey. One exception are Red-tailed Hawks in New York and other cities. In such urban environments, these raptors have learned to catch Rock Pigeons!

Cooper's Hawk after a successful hunt

The Red-shouldered Hawk is another common raptor that may eat the occasional bird but usually prefers other food. These beautiful, medium-sized hawks mostly feed on lizards, frogs, snakes, and other small animals.

Most other hawk species have similar diets that consist of rodents and other small animals. However, most species also do occasionally eat birds, and a few types of hawks actively hunt birds.


Do All Hawks Hunt Birds?

Most hawks catch small birds from time to time. However, most species only hunt birds when the opportunity presents itself.

For example, if a Red-tailed Hawk notices an injured European Starling, it’s probably going to catch and eat it. It’s doing what most predators do: taking advantage of an easy feeding opportunity.

If that starling was a healthy bird, a Red-tailed Hawk would probably ignore it. Starlings are normally just too fast for Red-tailed Hawks to catch; it’s not worth their while.

Nevertheless, there are a few hawk species that would be very much interested in any starling or other small bird they see. These bird-eating hawks include the Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and the Northern Goshawk.

Related: What Eats Hawks?

All three are highly adapted for preying on birds. They have rounded wings and a long tail to help them maneuver through dense vegetation and long legs to help grasp their avian prey.

They also won’t hesitate to stalk backyard feeders, especially the Cooper’s Hawk. This raptor has become adapted to living in towns and parks, and, in most places, is the most commonly seen bird-eating hawk.

In winter, the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk can also appear at feeders, while the Northern Goshawk is usually seen in wilder situations.


What Kinds of Birds Do Hawks Hunt?

Hawks can hunt a wide variety of birds. Since many hawks catch birds opportunistically, they can feed on everything from woodpeckers to warblers. However, the bird-eating hawks do tend to specialize on certain types of birds.

The small Sharp-shinned Hawk is a fierce little predator that only eats small birds. Although they can occasionally catch a bird as big as an American Robin, they mostly prey on birds like warblers, sparrows, juncos, and goldfinches. In other words, Sharp-shinned Hawks like to eat small birds that visit feeders.

American Robin

Although hawks can occasionally catch a bird as big as an American Robin, they mostly prey on birds like warblers, sparrows, juncos, and goldfinches.

Cooper’s Hawks can also hunt at backyard feeders but prefer slightly bigger species, and park-like, wooded areas. They catch lots of Mourning Doves, woodpeckers, European Starlings, and Rock Pigeons. This raptor also feeds on lots of other birds and can even catch Northern Bobwhites.

Related: How much weight can hawks carry?

The hefty Northern Goshawk feeds on other, larger birds. This powerful raptor is strong enough to kill large gulls and even Wild Turkeys! However, they mostly prey on medium to fair-sized birds like jays, American Robins, grouse, American Crows, and woodpecker species like Northern Flickers.

Northern Harriers feed on a lot of rodents but also catch birds. They hunt in open habitats for meadowlarks, blackbirds, Northern Cardinals, and other small waterbirds. On occasion, they also catch small ducks!


How to Keep Backyard Birds Safe

Provide Shelter

This is the single most important thing you can do to protect backyard birds from hawks and other predators. When a bird notices a hawk, it rushes to the nearest patch of dense vegetation. Give birds this option by placing feeders within ten feet of shrubbery or dense trees.

Shield Feeders

Putting a baffle or some other cover above a feeder can help thwart hawks. These help to conceal the birds and also make it tougher for a hawk to fly in and attack.

Coopers Hawks are often preying on smaller birds

Avoid Ground Feeders

Ground or low feeders are nice for some species. However, unfortunately, they also make for perfect hunting situations. It’s much easier for cats and hawks to catch birds on or near the ground.

Take the Feeders Down

If a hawk won’t leave the backyard, one option is temporarily removing your feeders. Without a good feeding opportunity, hawks won’t stick around. After a few days or even a week, you can put them back up.

Prevent Window Collisions

Birds that become stunned after hitting a window are easy prey for hawks. Utilizing methods to prevent window collisions will help to keep hawks away as well as keep birds safe.


Frequently Asked Questions

Do birds know when hawks are around?

Birds are usually aware if hawks are around. They keep a close watch for predators and give alarm calls when they spot one.

Are there any ways to keep hawks away from your garden?

Yes, avoiding ground feeders and preventing window collisions are a couple ways to keep hawks from your garden.

Are hawks afraid of crows?

No, hawks are not afraid of crows. However, a flock of noisy crows can drive a hawk away.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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