Hawks are powerful, ferocious birds of prey. These efficient predators are carnivores that feed on small mammals, fish, insects and more.
Hawks are skilled hunters and can take down anything smaller than them with their sharp claws and strong beaks.
So, what do hawks eat? Let’s dive into their typical diet, including what their young eat, how they hunt, and their natural predators.
What do hawks eat?
Hawks eat small mammals such as mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, gophers and squirrels. They also eat fish, insects, lizards, frogs and snakes.
Hawks eat anything smaller than themselves and are strictly carnivorous. They can easily spot prey with their keen eyesight and high hovering ability.
Birds of prey often get a bad rap for taking off with chickens and small pets, but this is rare.
In the book Eating Habits of Common Hawks† published by the US Department of Agriculture, WL McAtee finds hawks help relieve pests and other crop nuisances on farms.
Essentially, these birds of prey do more good than harm.
A Complete List of 15 Foods Hawks Eat
Check out this list of the most common foods hawks will eat:
- prairie dogs
- bird eggs
- various insects
Although not common, hawks sometimes prey on other small birds, such as doves, blackbirds, and starlings. They can even take off with a baby fox or sheep if the opportunity arises.
Hawks tend to eat small mammals such as mice, but they are quick-witted and will settle for anything they can pick up with their claws.
These predators often hunt for their food, but also eat carrion (dead animals).
What do different species of hawks eat?
There are more than 200 hundred species of hawks in the world, and many of them eat other foods.
Red-tailed hawks prefer mammals such as ground squirrels, rabbits, and mice, while Sharp-Shinned and Cooper’s Hawks hang out at bird feeders and prey on songbirds.
Hawks are known as defensive hawks that will defend themselves when threatened. They eat a variety of prey, including mammals, insects, birds, and reptiles.
Red-shouldered hawks are forest dwellers that feed on amphibians, snakes and lizards.
How much do hawks eat?
How much these raptors eat mainly depends on their weight and the accessibility of prey. Some hawks eat as many as eight small creatures a day, while others eat a larger animal once a day.
Hawks expend a lot of energy and need to eat 12-15% of their body weight per day. Young, developing birds need to eat more than adults. And women tend to be taller and consume more than men.
The bigger the hawk, the more they eat per meal. A red-tailed hawk can eat a large rabbit, but it can take up to two days to get the next feeding.
What do baby hawks eat?
Baby hawks, also called eyas, are carnivores like their parents and must follow a similar diet. Baby hawks eat lizards, fish, crustaceans and insects.
Adult female hawks lay one to five eggs per year in the spring (April or May). The eggs hatch about six weeks later and the young are completely dependent on their parents for food for up to two months after leaving the nest.
Eyas eat every one to three days, sometimes several times a day, depending on the size of the prey.
Who competes with hawks for food?
Hawks often compete with each other for food. There are many different species of hawks and each species can compete with the other for prey and nesting sites.
The hawk’s other direct competitors include eagles, owls, ospreys and falcons. Any bird of prey can compete with a hawk for food.
Who would win the fight depends on the bird’s size and overall health.
Birds of prey behave aggressively towards other birds and will fight to defend their food and their young. Even smaller birds can injure a hawk while defending themselves.
How do hawks hunt?
Hawks circle and soar in the air, watching the ground below for signs of moving prey. They have excellent vision and can clearly see a small mouse over 100 feet away.
These birds usually hunt during sunset and sunrise and use other techniques to track their dinner. Some species let out a cry to send their prey to flight. When the animal gets tired, the hawk dives down and grabs the animal with its claws.
The claws are razor sharp and curved, perfect for piercing the skin and other hard exteriors. Their beaks are sharp hooks that can easily tear through flesh and bones.
Hawks are skilled, fierce hunters with excellent instincts and clever maneuvers.
Do hawks have predators?
Large hawks dominate the skies and attack smaller species when threatened or to assert dominance. The ferruginous hawk is the largest hawk species in North America and can easily shoot down a smaller bird such as the Cooper’s Hawk.
As hawks threaten each other, more predators await them. Eagles and hawks will fight to assert their dominance. These two also have common food interests, over which they compete.
Owls and hawks threaten each other because they eat the same food and go to the same nesting sites. They will fight for food and to protect their territories.
Snakes do not normally attack adult hawks, but they will slither into trees and into unattended nests. Snakes are notorious for stealing bird eggs and hatching young and can easily pick up defenseless little creatures.