What Do Hawks Eat? – Hawk Diet & FAQs

Hawk eating a pigeon in the forest

Have you ever wondered what hawks eat? These majestic birds of prey have a diet as varied and fascinating as their species! 

From high above the earth, hawks use their incredible eyesight to scan the ground for potential meals. They capitalize on the element of surprise as they swoop down with precision to capture their unsuspecting prey.

Ready to learn more about what a hawk eats? Join us as we explore the diet that sustains these powerful predators in the wild.

What Do Hawks Typically Eat?

Adult hawk eating dead pigeon in a garden

Hawks are carnivorous, so they primarily feed on other animals. Their diet varies widely depending on their species and habitat but often includes smaller birds, rodents, and insects. In addition to this primary diet, they also eat fish, carrion, and amphibians.

Here’s a specific list of what hawks typically eat:

  • Small mammals: Mice, voles, and rabbits are common prey. These small creatures provide the bulk of nutrition for many hawks, especially in wooded and grassland areas.
  • Birds: Smaller birds are also a significant part of a hawk’s diet. They may hunt species such as sparrows, pigeons, or even ducks, depending on the hawk’s size.
  • Insects and reptiles: In warmer climates or during specific seasons, hawks will eat large insects, snakes, and lizards. This variety ensures they can find food in different terrains and temperatures.
  • Fish: Near bodies of water, some hawk species turn to fishing. They swoop down with precision to snatch fish from the surface, showcasing their versatile hunting skills.
  • Carrion: Some hawk species, like the Red-tailed Hawks, are identified as one of the birds that feed on dead animals, especially if other food is hard to come by. This scavenging behavior is more about survival than preference.
  • Amphibians: Frogs and toads can also become part of a hawk’s diet, especially for those living near wetlands. The moisture-rich environment offers hawks a variety of amphibians to hunt.

Hawks exhibit remarkable adaptability in their hunting methods and diet, as evidenced by their food choices.

They can capture a wide range of prey, from the ground or mid-flight, using their powerful talons and speed. This versatility makes them apex predators in their ecosystems.

Check out this graphic video of a hawk eating a squirrel: 

Bronx Hawk Grabs & Eats Squirrel

Do Hawks Have a Favorite Food?

Yes, hawks do have preferences when it comes to their food, although these favorites can vary widely among different hawk species and individual birds. 

Typically, their preferred food is based on what is most abundant in their habitat and easiest for them to hunt and catch. 

This preference ensures they expend the least amount of energy to receive the maximum nutritional value, a key survival strategy in the wild.

Moreover, the availability of prey also affects a hawk’s food preference seasonally. 

During certain times of the year when specific prey is more abundant, hawks might show a temporary preference for this more readily available food source. 

Different Types of Hawks and Their Diet

Each hawk species has adapted its diet to make the most of the resources available in its unique habitat. Discover what various common types of hawks prefer to eat in the discussion below:

Red-tailed Hawk

Red tailed hawk eating squirrel on the ground

Red-tailed Hawks have a diet that heavily features small to medium-sized mammals, including mice, voles, rabbits, and squirrels. 

They also occasionally hunt birds and snakes, adapting their hunting strategy to the availability of these prey in their habitat. 

Due to their versatile diet, Red-tailed Hawks can thrive in a variety of environments, from deserts to woodlands and urban areas.

Fun Fact: According to the San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants, Red-tailed Hawks prefer to perch patiently and wait rather than continuously soaring in search of prey. 

This is why about 95% of its diet is comprised of rodents, such as ground squirrels and mice.

Cooper’s Hawk

Coopers hawk eating recently captured prey

Cooper’s Hawks are adept bird hunters, primarily preying on smaller birds found in wooded areas. Their diet consists of species such as starlings, sparrows, and doves. 

These hawks are known for their agility, flying swiftly through trees to catch their avian prey. 

In addition to birds, Cooper’s Hawks will also hunt small mammals and insects, especially when raising their young or when bird prey is less available.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp shinned hawk caught a prey

The Sharp-shinned Hawk, the smallest hawk in North America, specializes in hunting small birds, which makes them a common visitor to backyard bird feeders. 

Their diet mainly includes songbirds such as finches, sparrows, and warblers. They use their size and agility to navigate through dense foliage and surprise their prey. 

While birds constitute the majority of their diet, they will also eat insects and occasionally small rodents, adapting their diet to the seasons and available food sources.

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad winged hawk perched on a fence post

Broad-winged Hawks have a diet that includes a wide range of small animals. They primarily eat insects, especially during migration, but their diet also encompasses small mammals, amphibians, and other birds. 

These hawks are forest dwellers, and their hunting strategy involves waiting on a perch and swooping down on prey. 

Their diet also varies with the seasons; for example, they eat more insects during the summer and more small mammals and amphibians during other times of the year.

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainsons hawk eating a rodent

Swainson’s Hawks are long-distance migrants known for their impressive journey from North America to South America. Their diet is quite varied, including insects, small mammals, and reptiles. 

During their breeding season in North America, they often feed on rodents and small mammals. 

However, while in migration and during their stay in South America, they switch to a diet that is heavily insect-based, particularly locusts and other large insects.

How Do Hawks Hunt Their Prey?

Osprey hawk hunting and catching fish

Many hawks use the perch-and-pounce method when hunting for prey. They sit quietly on a high perch and scan the area until they spot a target. They then swoop down quickly and quietly to surprise their prey. 

This technique is especially effective in wooded areas where cover can be used to their advantage.

Other hawks prefer to hunt on the wing and soar high in the sky to spot potential meals below. 

During a hike in the open plains last summer, I had the chance to observe this exact hunting strategy. 

I witnessed a hawk circling a nearby clearing, then suddenly changing its flight pattern to swoop in on its target — a small bird. It firmly grasped the bird with its powerful talons, leaving no room for escape.

The hawk’s maneuvering was precise and calculated, perfectly timed to match its prey’s movements. 

How Many Times Do Hawks Eat a Day?

Generally, a hawk eats once or twice a day. However, this is not a strict rule, as their feeding habits are greatly influenced by the success of their hunts and their energy needs, among other factors.

The amount of food a hawk consumes at each feeding can also affect how often they eat. A large meal might keep a hawk satisfied for a longer period, reducing the need for frequent hunting. 

Hawks, especially larger ones, can consume a significant portion of their body weight in a single meal, which allows them to go several days without eating if necessary.

Moreover, the life stage of a hawk plays a role in its eating frequency. Juveniles that are growing rapidly may need to eat more often than adults. 

Meanwhile, during the breeding season, adult hawks may hunt more frequently to feed their young. 

What Do Baby Hawks Eat?

Adult hawk feeding its babies in a nest

Baby hawks, or eyasses, eat a diet provided by their parents, consisting mostly of the same types of prey the adults consume. This includes a variety of small mammals, birds, and insects. 

Typically, the parents take turns hunting and bringing food back to the nest. They then tear the food into small, manageable pieces to feed their young and ensure the chicks receive the necessary nutrients for rapid growth.

The variety of food that the parents bring helps in the overall growth and health of the baby hawks, which will prepare them for independence.

As baby hawks grow, their diet gradually shifts to larger portions and more whole prey items. This transition not only feeds them but also teaches them about the types of prey they will encounter once they begin hunting on their own.

It’s a natural progression that ensures they are equipped for survival outside the nest.

How to Attract Hawks to Your Yard

To attract hawks to your yard, you need to create a welcoming environment that meets their needs for hunting, perching, and nesting. 

This involves offering a habitat that supports a variety of prey and provides safe, high places for hawks to perch and observe their surroundings.

Here are some more specific tips to attract hawks to your yard:

  • Maintain or plant trees: Start by maintaining or planting trees and tall structures where hawks can perch and survey the area for rodents, small birds, and other prey.
  • Leverage large, mature trees: These are particularly appealing to hawks for nesting and as vantage points.
  • Encourage a diverse ecosystem: Fostering habitats for small mammals, birds, and insects naturally attracts more hawks.
  • Avoid pesticides: Creating a garden that attracts a variety of prey species without the use of pesticides makes your yard more inviting.
  • Add a water source: A pond or bird bath can attract prey animals and, in turn, hawks.

By creating a welcoming environment for hawks, you can enjoy their presence and the benefits they bring, such as controlling rodent and insect populations in your backyard.

Pro Tip: To better attract hawks to your yard, it’s crucial to respect their space. Maintain a respectful distance and avoid any actions that could disturb them, particularly during their nesting season. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Adult hawk brought the prey for its young

Do Hawks Eat Small Dogs?

Hawks generally do not target small dogs due to the risk of injury and human presence. However, very small pets left unattended outdoors might be at risk in areas with large hawk species.

Do Hawks Eat Birds?

Yes, hawks are known for preying on a variety of bird species. Their diet can include anything from small songbirds to, occasionally, larger birds. 

The specific types of birds hunted depend on the hawk’s size, habitat, and local bird populations. 

Do Hawks Eat Snakes?

Hawks, particularly those species that dwell in or migrate through grasslands and open woodlands, frequently include snakes in their diet. 

They possess the keen eyesight and swift diving ability necessary to catch these reptiles, which can be an important food source during certain seasons and in specific regions.

Do Hawks Eat Fish?

Certain hawk species, especially those living near rivers, lakes, and coastal areas, have adapted to fishing and include fish in their diet. 

These hawks have developed techniques for plucking fish from the water with their sharp talons.

What Do Hawks Eat in the Winter?

During winter, when many food sources become scarce, hawks continue to hunt available prey such as rodents, small mammals, and hardier bird species. 

Some hawks may migrate to warmer areas with more abundant food, while others adapt to the seasonal changes by expanding their hunting territories and techniques to ensure survival.

What Do Hawks Eat in the City?

In urban environments, hawks adapt their diet to include city-dwelling species such as pigeons, sparrows, and rats. 

These birds of prey have become increasingly visible in cities, where they play a beneficial role in controlling the populations of these urban animals.

We hope you find this article on the hawk diet informative! If you have questions or interesting experiences you want to share, leave a comment below!

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