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What Do Hawks Eat: Everything A Hawk Eats Explained

If you love nature walks then chances are you have seen some local wildlife during your adventures. Wild animals and birds, both common and rare, are often sighted during a walk or hike in the great outdoors.

Part of the fun of these sightings is identifying the species and then researching them to find out a little about how they live their life in the wild. It’s more than likely that during your travels you have seen a hawk.

These magnificent and majestic birds are very common, although they can be reclusive, so maybe your sightings have been short and sweet. Understanding the amazing hawks and how they survive the elements means knowing how they obtain shelter and warmth and also how they find food.

No living creature can survive without food and nourishment and the hawk is no exception. So what do hawks eat to survive?


What Do Hawks Eat – The Most Common Food Sources

A specific Hawk and their meal of choice will vary and be dependant on a number of factors. These include the particular species of hawk, the area in which the habitat, and the season.

For example, a northern goshawk residing in the north Canadian mountains during a harsh winter is likely to have different food choices to a broad-winged hawk roaming the more southern states during a mild summer.

Hawks hunt both in the air and on the ground
Hawks hunt both in the air and on the ground

Typically a hawk will hunt its food. The most common food sources are smaller birds or birds eggs, small mammals, rodents, insects, or reptiles. Food choices are often based upon opportunity and seasonal produce. Hawks hunt both in the air and on the ground. A hawk will take advantage of any food opportunity which crosses its path.

If the chance of a decent meal or snack is sighted by the hawk then its hunter instincts will of course take over. Not all hunting sessions are chance or opportunity though. In fact, most will be pre-meditated and calculated by the intelligent and precise hawk.

Some hawks will set out on a search, seeking their next meal. Once found the hawk will take its time before taking its prey by total surprise. The could be following hours of observation by the hawk who will carry out clever and uninterrupted surveillance. This is where the common saying “watch as a hawk” originates from.

The patient watching and waiting will finally pay off as the hawk is presented with the perfect moment to act. The persistence pays off as our hawk is rewarded with a fine meal. But what kind of prey makes a fine meal for a hawk.

Below are ten common food sources to answer our original question. What do hawks eat?


Do hawks eat Squirrels?

Red tailed hawk hunting squirrel in the park
Red-tailed hawk hunting squirrel in the park

A red or grey squirrel may be an adorable sight for us humans but for many species of Hawks, it is a sign for dinner time. Squirrels are hunted and consumed by various species of hawks including coopers hawks, shoulder hawks, and red tail hawks. Squirrels reside in treetops and venture to the ground when collecting their own food sources.

A hawk may watch and observe the squirrels for a long time before making its move.


Do hawks eat hares and rabbits?

Typically smaller hares, such as the snowshoe hares, as well as rabbits, make an ideal feast for some hawks. Hares and rabbits are particularly at risk from northern goshawk hares as these tend to reside and hunt in forest areas where hares and rabbits can often be found.


Do hawks eat woodpeckers?

There are some species of hawks known as accipiters. The characteristics of these are talons which are longer and sharper and shorter rounder wings. These are more likely to attack other bird species including woodpeckers.


Do hawks eat Grouse?

The famous grouse is a larger bird often hunted and devoured by hawks including the sharp-shinned hawks and famous cooper hawks. These hawks are known as accipiters. They are known for hunting and feeding other species of birds.


Do hawks eat Crows?

Hawk hunting crows
Hawk hunting crows

Along with some larger breeds of owls, the hawks are a huge threat to crows and ravens. As the biggest predator of crows, a hawk will attack a crow nest in order to hunt, kill and eat.


Do hawks eat mice?

A hungry hawk will easily devour a small mammal such as a mouse or a collection of mice. Mice are hunted by many species of hawk including the red-tailed hawk.


Do hawks eat rats?

Just like mice rats can be stapled in a hawk’s diet. Often larger than mice rats will satisfy a bigger appetite and are more likely to be hunted by a larger hawk such as the red-tailed hawk.


Do hawks eat Chipmunks?

Coopers hawk hunts chipmunk
Cooper’s hawk hunts chipmunk

Another mammal the hawk will prey upon is the chipmunk. Known to humans as the long-lost cousins of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore but known to hawks as food.


Do hawks eat insects?

Although a hawk may have a strong preference for a meal with more substance, such as a smaller bird or mammal, they will eat just about anything. With that in mind, we must remember that not all predators have successful hunts ending in large feasts.

Even the most patient and skillful hawk has a bad day. This is where insects become food. A hawk unable to fit alternative food will eat insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, and any other insects they may find in the woodlands and fields.


Do hawks eat snakes?

Hawks will prey on and eat snakes. Preying from above a hawk will swoop down taking the snake victim by complete surprise before flying away with the snake captured. Once in the air and out of its usual environment, a snake will struggle to defend itself.


Hawks and our pets. Do hawks eat dogs?

Do hawks eat dogs
Do hawks eat dogs

So now we have looked at the question of what do hawks eat? We have an overview of the most common and typical menu items for hawks. But is there anything else? Well as discussed t above the hawk is an opportunistic bird. This means that anything spotted which could be easy or potential kill could easily be on the menu.

This could include puppies or smaller breeds of dogs. Whilst reports of hawks attempting to attack and kill a dog are rare, it is unfortunately not unheard of.

A hawk will only be able to pick up a puppy or smaller dog, so medium and large breeds are thought to be safe. But if your dog weighs around 20 pounds or less then please take care. Savvy and smart pet owners know that care should always be taken when walking our four-legged friends in the wilderness.

Expert Tip: Remember hawks are likely to attack a lone dog, not one with people, so keep your dog within eyesight when walking in the wild.

If you do see a hawk or large bird, approach your dog act immediately. Shout, stamp your feed wave your arms do anything to look big and intimidating to scare the bird aware.

This should be enough for the bird to immediately flee the scene and take flight. At home, you can keep your dog, or other pets, safe from hawks and birds of prey. Be aware of birds in your area and the risk they may oppose. Research pet safety at home and follow advice on birds of prey.

General advice to pet owners does not leave their pets outside in a garden or yard overnight, and never leave food outside which may cause initial attraction and interest from a hawk or bird of pre.


What are hawks eaten by?

So now we understand a little more about the hawks, the different species, their favorite foods, and what they eat to survive. But of course, we must remember in the wild it is not just food that birds need to stay alive. Hawks are part of a much bigger food chain and ecosystem.

Therefore we must remember the law of the jungle (or woodland) and the circle of life. This means that although the hawk is a hunter it could also be considered a food source for other species. The hawk may be a predator in many situations but the predator can easily become prey.

Hawks may be at the top end of the food chain but this does not make them safe and secure from all attacks or all other predators. So what birds and animals sit above, or inline, with the hawk on this food chain? Which animals do the hawks need to avoid at all costs? Which animals can turn the hunter hawk into the hunted hawk?


Hawk Predators

Hawk Predators
Hawk Predators

Fully grown and mature hawks only have a few enemies in the wild. There are some, but not too many for the hawks to contend with. Predator characteristics of a hawk include brutal beaks and long razor-sharp talons. These features make them a strong contender in both battle and defense. Intakes strong competition to beat a hawk.

It is also important to remember that hawks fly high above the grasp of some larger predators such as bears and wolves. Hawks are generally regarded as top-level predators, in the ecosystem. The majority of the time they are the ones doing the hunting, rather than the ones being hunted.

Although hawks are more often the predators and king of their habitat. It does not mean that they are always safe from other large and strong animals and birds. In the wild, there are indeed animals and birds which are both large enough, and strong enough, to hunt, kill and finally eat a hawk.

It is important to consider that within the world of animals and birds things are not always strictly categorized as predator only or prey only. Many animals and both are both predators and prey. The hawk is an example of this.

Expert Tip: So if a large bird or animal finds themselves in a situation where the possibility of snacking on a hawk arises, they will of course jump at the opportunity. A strong, large, hungry predator will prey on almost anything it can fight and win.

Examples of animals and birds which may prey on, hunt kill, and eat hawks include the following;


Coyotes

Coyote would eat a hawk, dead or alive
Coyote would eat a hawk, dead or alive

Known for eating everything or anything that may be able to get their paws on it is safe to say the Coyote is not a picky eater. A coyote will eat vegetation such as grass and fruit. It will also indulge its carnivore side and eat other animals and birds.

Not always known as the greatest or most precise hunter a coyote will make a meal out of the work of other hunters. In other words, Coyotes are known for discovering and eating other dead animal carcasses and bones. Known for making the most out of a lucky opportunity, the Coyote would eat a hawk, dead or alive if presented with a chance.

However, a coyote’s favorite animal snack is normally small mammals.


Foxes

Generally speaking, foxes will hunt and eat small mammals including mice, rats, and rabbits. These small mammals and rodents make up the majority of a fox’s food source. This does not mean that birds are safe from the fox though. Birds maybe not be their favorite or most regular food source, but foxes will still hunt birds on some occasions.

For example, many species of foxes will hunt and kill birds in order to their young baby foxes. When feeding their young a diet of birds the fox will usually seek smaller less threatening birds for example doves, pigeons, and robins. These are much easy to battle with than a large bird of prey with its deadly talons and brutal beak.

However, a fox will certainly hunt a weak or injured hawk. Should a fox cross paths with an adult hawk who has already done battle with another predator it will certainly make the most of such an opportunity and finish the job.


Larger hawks

Hawks prey on smaller birds
Hawks prey on smaller birds

Hawks prey on smaller birds so it is only natural that larger birds will prey on them. Not just other species but bigger and bolder hawks will eat the smaller and weaker ones without a moment of hesitation. Let the battle of the hawks commence.

As an example let us consider the Ferruginous Hawk is the largest hawk species this one certainly has its pick of the smaller hawk families such as the sharp-shinned hawk.


Eagles

The bigger the bird the closer to the top of that all-important food chain. Eagles can be huge in comparison to many species of hawks. Therefore an Eagle can and will, easily hunt and feast upon a mature adult hawk.


Crows

Crow will easily prey on the young hawks
Crow will easily prey on the young hawks

Unlikely to attack an adult hawk due to the obvious size, strength, and power difference but a crow will easily prey on the young hawks. It is not unusual for a crow to find a hawk nest before stealing and eating unhatched hawk eggs.


Racoons

Like the crows, an average raccoon is unlikely to take its chances and enter into battle with a fully grown hawk but most will certainly take a young or eggs from a nest if such an opportunity presents itself.


Snakes

Snake will fight to a large bird as an act of defense
A snake will fight a large bird as an act of defense

Another example of when the hunted (sometimes) becomes the hunter. It is much more likely to encounter a hawk eating a snake but not unheard of for the tables to turn. There have been known occasions (some even captured on video by keen nature enthusiasts) where a hawk has picked on the wrong snake and instantly regretted it.

A snake will not generally go out of its way to eat a hawk, preferring mice and smaller birds, but will kill an eat-in as an act of defense.


What do hawks eat, the Answer to our question, and more

So in answer to our original question, what do hawks eat? we have explored some fascinating information. While exploring the dietary needs and preferences of the hawk what have we discovered? First of all, we have confirmed that the exact diet and menu options will vary from species, habitat, season, and also current circumstances.

We know that hawks will generally choose smaller birds and small mammals or rodents as their snack of choice. However, like many animals in the wild, will take advantage of other food opportunities.

We know that the mighty and magnificent hawk is top tier in the food chain of their ecosystem but that does not give them automatic immunity from becoming hunted themselves.

Hope this has helped all you nature lovers out there and perhaps now you feel you know a little more about the beautiful and powerful hawks. If you would like to know more about a specific aspect of the hawk why not leave a comment? Also please feel free to share your hawk sightings and stories in the comments.

Perhaps you have been lucky enough to capture a beautiful hawk in a photograph or video? If so we would love to see this.

About Grace Hocker

Hi, my name is Grace and I am a pet lover. Ever since 5 years old, I've owned some sort of pet from Bearded Dragons to Rabbits. I have dedicated my life to helping pets, and am here to help you get the best for your pet!