Do Hawks Eat Small Birds? A Detailed Look At Hawk Feeding Habits

Many bird lovers wonder if predatory hawks pose a threat to songbirds visiting their yards and feeders. Hawks are powerful, skilled hunters, so it’s natural to be concerned that they may prey on small backyard birds.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Yes, many hawks do eat small birds as part of their varied diet. But the chances of them picking off birds at your feeder are very low.

In this detailed article, we’ll look closely at the feeding habits of North America’s most common hawk species. You’ll learn which hawks are most likely to hunt smaller birds, which specific types of birds are at risk, and how hawks capture their prey.

We’ll also offer tips on protecting feeder birds from hawks without harming the raptors.

What Kinds of Small Birds Do Hawks Eat?

Hawks are known for their predatory behavior, often preying on small birds as a source of food. The specific types of small birds that hawks target can vary depending on the species of hawk and its geographic location. Let’s take a closer look at some common types of small birds that hawks feed on:


One of the main types of small birds that hawks prey on are songbirds. These include popular species such as sparrows, finches, warblers, and thrushes. Hawks have keen eyesight and are skilled hunters, enabling them to spot these small birds from a distance and swoop down to catch them in flight or while perched on a branch.

Backyard Feeder Birds

Hawks are also known to target backyard feeder birds. These are the birds that frequent bird feeders in residential areas, such as cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, and titmice. Hawks may lurk nearby, waiting for an opportunity to strike when these small birds are feeding on seeds or suet.

It’s important to note that hawks are a natural part of the ecosystem and play a role in maintaining a balance among bird populations.

Game Birds

In addition to songbirds and backyard feeder birds, hawks may occasionally prey on game birds. This includes birds such as quail, pheasants, and grouse. While game birds are typically larger than songbirds, hawks are agile and powerful fliers, allowing them to capture and feed on these birds as well.

It’s worth mentioning that the diet of hawks can vary based on factors such as their location, habitat, and availability of prey. Therefore, the specific types of small birds that hawks eat may differ from region to region.

To learn more about the feeding habits of hawks in your area, it can be helpful to consult local birding resources or wildlife organizations.

For more information on hawks and their feeding habits, you can visit the Audubon or HawkWatch International websites, which provide valuable insights into bird behavior and conservation efforts.

Which Hawk Species Prey on Small Birds?

Hawks are known for their incredible hunting abilities, and they have a diverse diet that includes small mammals, reptiles, and even other birds. However, not all hawk species prey on small birds. Let’s take a closer look at some of the hawk species that are known to have small birds on their menu.

Sharp-Shinned Hawks

Sharp-Shinned Hawks are agile and swift hunters that primarily target small birds. They have long, slender bodies and short wings, which allow them to maneuver through dense forests with ease. These hawks are known for their surprise attacks on songbirds, making them a significant threat to bird populations, especially during migration seasons.

Cooper’s Hawks

Cooper’s Hawks are another hawk species that actively preys on small birds. With their medium-sized bodies and rounded wings, they are excellent at maneuvering through densely wooded areas. They are known for their remarkable speed and agility, allowing them to swiftly chase down their avian prey, including robins, sparrows, and jays.

Northern Goshawks

The Northern Goshawk is a powerful and fierce predator that primarily hunts in dense forests. While their main prey consists of larger birds and mammals, they have been observed preying on smaller birds as well.

These hawks are known for their strong hunting skills and impressive speed, making them a formidable threat to their avian prey.

Red-Tailed Hawks

Red-Tailed Hawks are one of the most widespread and adaptable hawk species in North America. Although they primarily feed on small mammals, such as rodents and rabbits, they have also been observed hunting small birds.

Their broad wings and soaring abilities allow them to scan large areas for potential prey, giving them the opportunity to target smaller birds when the opportunity arises.

Red-Shouldered Hawks

Red-Shouldered Hawks are medium-sized hawks that primarily inhabit wooded areas near water. While they mostly feed on small mammals and reptiles, they have a diverse diet that includes small birds. These hawks have powerful talons and sharp beaks, which they use to catch and subdue their avian prey.

It’s important to note that the feeding habits of hawks can vary depending on factors such as habitat, prey availability, and individual hunting preferences. While these hawk species are known to prey on small birds, it’s also essential to remember that they play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem by controlling bird populations and contributing to the balance of nature.

For more information on hawk feeding habits and bird conservation, you can visit the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

How Do Hawks Catch and Kill Small Birds?

Hawks are skilled predators known for their agility and hunting prowess. When it comes to catching and killing small birds, they employ various strategies, depending on the circumstances and the species of hawk. Let’s take a closer look at some of their hunting techniques:

Stealth Ambush Hunting

Many hawks are masters of stealth and camouflage, using their excellent eyesight to spot their prey from great distances. They perch on tree branches or utility poles, patiently waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.

When a small bird comes into their field of view, they launch into action with lightning-fast speed, swooping down to snatch their unsuspecting prey. This surprise attack is often fatal for the small bird, as the hawk’s sharp talons and powerful grip ensure there is little chance of escape.

Short High-Speed Chases

Some hawks, like the Cooper’s hawk and the sharp-shinned hawk, are known for their impressive aerial acrobatics. They excel at maneuvering through dense vegetation and tight spaces, making them formidable hunters in woodland areas.

These hawks rely on their agility and speed to chase down their prey, engaging in short but intense high-speed pursuits. Once they catch up to their target, they use their sharp talons to grab hold of the bird and deliver a swift and fatal blow.

Snatching Birds from Feeders

Hawks are opportunistic hunters and will take advantage of easy meals whenever possible. In urban and suburban areas, where bird feeders are common, some hawks have learned to target these feeding stations as a source of food.

They swoop down on unsuspecting birds that are busy feeding, catching them off guard and snatching them away before they can react. This behavior can be a source of frustration for bird enthusiasts, but it is a natural part of the hawk’s hunting strategy.

Plucking Feathers and Dismembering Prey

Once a hawk has successfully caught a small bird, it typically takes it to a safe location to consume its meal. Hawks have sharp beaks that are perfectly adapted for tearing apart their prey. They use their beak to pluck feathers and dismember the bird, making it easier to consume.

This process can be quite fascinating to observe, as hawks meticulously remove feathers and consume their meal with precision.

It’s important to note that hawks primarily feed on small birds that are abundant in their environment. They play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance by controlling populations of these smaller species.

While it may be disheartening for bird lovers to witness a hawk preying on their feathered friends, it’s essential to remember that this is a natural part of the predator-prey relationship in the animal kingdom.

For more information on hawks and their hunting habits, you can visit All About Birds, a comprehensive website dedicated to bird identification and behavior.

Do Hawks Pose a Big Threat to Backyard Birds?

For many bird enthusiasts, the sight of a hawk can be both thrilling and concerning. While hawks are indeed predatory birds, their impact on backyard bird populations may not be as significant as one might think. Let’s take a closer look at why hawks may not pose a big threat to backyard birds.

Low Population Densities

One reason hawks may not pose a big threat to backyard birds is their relatively low population densities. Hawks are territorial birds, and their territories can cover a large area. This means that the number of hawks in a given area is typically lower compared to smaller bird species.

As a result, the chances of a hawk preying on backyard birds on a regular basis are relatively low.

Plentiful Alternative Prey

Hawks are opportunistic predators and have a wide range of prey items to choose from. While small birds are indeed part of their diet, they also feed on rodents, reptiles, insects, and even other birds.

In fact, studies have shown that hawks primarily target birds that are sick, injured, or weak, rather than healthy individuals. Additionally, hawks tend to focus on larger prey that provides them with a more substantial meal.

This means that small birds in your backyard may not be the preferred choice for a hungry hawk.

Other Predators are a Bigger Threat

While hawks may occasionally take advantage of an opportunity to prey on a small bird in a backyard, other predators pose a bigger threat to backyard bird populations. Cats, for example, are responsible for the deaths of millions of birds each year.

Window collisions, habitat loss, and climate change are also significant factors contributing to bird mortality. Therefore, it is important to consider a holistic approach to bird conservation rather than solely focusing on the impact of hawks.

So, while hawks are indeed predators and may occasionally target small birds, their impact on backyard bird populations is relatively low. By providing safe habitats, minimizing other threats, and appreciating the role hawks play in maintaining a balanced ecosystem, we can ensure the survival of both hawks and the birds we love to watch in our backyards.

Protecting Feeder Birds from Hawks

Hawks are skilled predators that primarily feed on small mammals and birds. While it is natural for hawks to hunt for their food, it can be concerning for bird enthusiasts who want to attract a variety of feathered friends to their backyard feeders.

Here are some effective strategies to protect feeder birds from hawks:

Proper Feeder Placement

One way to minimize the risk of hawks preying on small birds at your feeders is to strategically place them. Position feeders close to dense shrubs or trees that can provide cover for smaller birds to quickly escape if a hawk approaches.

By having a mix of open feeding areas and sheltered spaces, you can create a safer environment for your feathered visitors.

Avoid Excess Bird Congregations

Hawks are more likely to target feeders with a large number of congregating birds, as it provides them with a higher chance of a successful hunt. To discourage this, consider using multiple feeders spread out across your yard instead of a single large feeder.

This will help disperse the birds and make it more difficult for hawks to target them.

Offer Escape Cover Nearby

Providing nearby escape cover is another effective strategy to protect small birds from hawks. Planting dense shrubs or installing birdhouses with small entry holes can offer a quick getaway for feeder birds when a hawk is nearby.

These hiding spots allow birds to seek refuge until the danger has passed.

Scare Tactics and Repellents

Using scare tactics and repellents can also help deter hawks from targeting your feeder birds. Hanging reflective objects like CDs or wind chimes near the feeders can create movement and noise that may scare away hawks.

Additionally, installing bird feeders with wire enclosures or using cone-shaped baffles can make it difficult for hawks to reach the feeding ports.

It is important to note that while these strategies can help reduce the risk of hawk attacks, it is natural for hawks to hunt and feed on small birds. By implementing these protective measures, you can create a safer environment for your feeder birds without completely eliminating the presence of hawks in your yard.


While hawks do sometimes eat small bird species, the chances of them targeting birds at your feeders are quite low. By understanding hawk behavior and taking a few precautions, you can enjoy birdwatching and feeding wild birds while also appreciating the natural role hawks play in ecosystems.

With their acrobatic aerial skills and deadly precision, hawks certainly add an element of drama to the backyard birding experience. But ultimately, they are just trying to survive, not wipe out songbirds. Learning to coexist with these raptors ensures healthy habitats for all types of native birds.

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