How to Attract Hawks to Your Backyard?

Birdwatchers are often distressed to see hawks in their backyards, but the truth is that the presence of a hawk is the gold standard of providing a successful backyard habitat for birds of all kinds.

Hawks are rare in nature. They require a vibrant ecosystem to survive.

Sighting a hawk in your backyard is a sign you have done a lot of things right in creating a backyard haven for birds of all types.

In a backyard, you are most likely to attract the smaller birds of prey, including Cooper’s Hawk, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, the Red-Tailed Hawk, and the American Kestrel (which is actually a tiny falcon).

It is possible for larger birds of prey to visit backyards and gardens to hunt, but these three smaller birds of prey are faster and more agile than larger birds.

They are better suited for flying around bird-baths, feeders, and trees to capture smaller, panicked birds.

Why Every Bird Lover Should Welcome Hawks to their Landscape

It’s distressing to see a hawk making a meal of a hummingbird, a goldfinch, or some other favorite backyard songbird.

But hawks and other raptors in your neighborhood are strong evidence that you and your neighbors have created a wildlife-friendly area.

Hawks and other raptors don’t just eat other birds.

They consume snakes, large flying insects, and rodents, including rats, mice, squirrels, and gophers.

They can grab snakes, lizards, smaller chickens, lizards, turtles, and sometimes even fish.

Hawks keep unwelcome visitors to your backyard in check. They don’t eat more songbirds than they need to survive.

Most of the birds a haw takes are sick, weak, or old. Removing them from the flock leaves more food and shelter for the remaining birds.

This is the reason many birdwatchers actually encourage the presence of hawks in their yards.

Hawks don’t drive songbirds out of backyard habitats. Because hawks are relatively uncommon backyard visitors, other backyard birds pay more attention to cats than to hawks.

Studies have also found that some sick birds — one study focused on house finches with bacterial infections — will still scatter when they are approached by humans, but allow a hawk to attack them.

How to Attract Hawks to Your Backyard

The secret of attracting any bird to your backyard, including hawks and small raptors like kestrels, is to provide the bird’s needs for food, water, nesting sites, and protection from its predators.

You may not be able to meet all of a hawk’s needs in your backyard, but there are a number of things you can do to make your backyard more hawk-friendly.

Food

All hawks are carnivores, but not all hawks eat the same animals. The hawks you are most likely to see in your backyard are all-powerful hunters.

If you attract other kinds of birds to your landscape, they will see them and finish off the weaker members of the flock.

If you have an outdoor mouse and rat problem because of a neighbor’s unmowed grass or accumulated trash, hawks can help you with that, too.

One of the ways you can make your lawn more hawk-friendly is to avoid using rodenticides, especially those that contain Coumadin, the blood thinner used in mouse and rat poison.

Hawks, falcons, owls, and, surprisingly, canaries, are unusually resistant to the effects of rodent poisons, in the sense that they will not die from exposure, but these poisons weaken them and their young.

It’s not a good idea to bait hawks and other raptors with pet mice or raw meat. If there is prey on your property, they will find it.

Putting out meat makes them dependent on you, and keeps them from performing their natural tasks in keeping the bird ecosystem in balance.

Water

Hawks and other raptors don’t often drink water. That is because they get most of their fluid needs from their catch.

However, hawks like to bathe in the summer to cool down. They will be attracted to a bird-bath.

This is also a location from which they can hunt for weak, old, or sick birds.

Nesting Sites and Shelters

Hawks prefer to nest in trees at least 10 and as much as 60 feet (3 to 20 meters) above the ground.

Mature, old-growth trees are ideal nesting sites for them. American Kestrels and Screech Owls will occupy nesting boxes with large holes for entry and exit.

Other kinds of birds are vulnerable to snakes, rats, and squirrels when the holes for entering and leaving their birdhouses are too big, but these small raptors will eat the intruders that come in to eat their young.

Hawks need stable surfaces on which to perch to scan the ground for potential prey. Dead trees are ideal perches for them.

They also perch on large deciduous or coniferous trees, fence posts, clotheslines, deck railings, and roofs.

Other tips for attracting hawks to your backyard include:

  • Keep trimming and pruning to a minimum so your backyard looks natural. Letting shrubs and trees grow out will make hawks feel more at ease, and also provide more habitat for the birds, rodents, and insects on which they feed.
  • Keep your yard quiet. Hawks must not be disturbed while they are lying in wait for their prey.
  • Avoid both insecticides and rodenticides. Feeding on a poisoned insect or rodent can make the hawk sick.
  • Don’t shoo hawks away after they have fed. They need time to digest their food. They will cough up a pellet of undigested bones and feathers, so be tolerant of the mess.
  • Protect your pets, especially kittens, puppies, rabbits, and guinea pigs. Hawks see them as a potential meal.

Which Hawks Are Most Likely to Visit Your Backyard?

While there is always a possibility to have many different species of hawks visit your backyard, in reality, you’re more likely to attract only a couple of hawk species.

Cooper Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks are common throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Coopers Hawk in Backyard
Cooper Hawk

With a little practice, you can recognize these hawks by their:

  • Dark, hooked bills.
  • Red eyes.
  • Yellow legs.
  • Yellow cere (the fleshy appendage above the beak).
  • Broad, rounded wings.
  • Exceptionally long tail.
  • Blue-gray head with a darker cap contrasting to a lighter nape.
  • White chest and abdomen with rusty-colored bars.

Cooper’s Hawks are summer-only backyard visitors in Canada and the northern United States, including the Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, and New England.

They don’t migrate from southerly locations that have adequate food supplies.

Cooper’s Hawks prefer to live in open forests. They need widely spaced tall trees with plenty of room to maneuver.

They hunt by perching on wide branches of trees, fences, or poles and waiting for small prey to approach, or they do reconnaissance near bushes.

Once they capture their prey, they need to find a quiet place for several hours for digestion to take place.

Cooper’s Hawks are very aggressive near their nesting sites. They will attack pets and humans who get too close to their young.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawks are most often found in open lowlands and in forests with open spaces between trees.

Sharp-Shinned Hawks
Sharp-Shinned Hawk

They are well adapted to parks, cemeteries, and backyards.

Their range extends from western and southern Canada through the United States and Mexico to Central America.

These hawks are year-round backyard visitors in warm-winter climates, plus most of the Rocky Mountain states, Utah, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, and the Pacific Coast states, California, Oregon, and Washington.

They only spend the summer in colder-winter locations.

You can recognize Sharp-Shinned Hawks by their:

  • Dark, hooked bills.
  • Red eyes.
  • Yellow legs.
  • Yellow cere (the fleshy appendage above the beak).
  • Broad, rounded wings.
  • Exceptionally long tail.
  • Blue-gray head with a darker cap contrasting to a lighter nape.
  • White chest and abdomen with rusty-colored bars.

If you are saying “Wait a minute, isn’t this the same description as for a Cooper’s Hawk?” you are right. Sharp-Shinned Hawks are slightly smaller than Cooper’s Hawks.

They have a lighter cap and thinner legs. Cooper’s Hawks attack larger animals than Sharp-Shinned Hawks.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawks are the most common hawk in North America.

Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-Tailed Hawk

As one of the larger birds in this part of the world, it’s not unusual for birdwatchers to see them from their cars on long-distance road trips.

These hawks are found across North America south of the Arctic Circle.

They are found as far south as central Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

Most Red-tailed Hawks that spend the summer in Alaska, Canada, or the northern Great Plains fly south for a few months in the winter, but those that live in warmer-winter climates are year-round residents.

Red-Tailed Hawks are larger than robins but smaller than crows.

They have rusty-red feathers on their backs, heads, and tails, and white feathers with rusty-red bars underneath.

These hawks like to hunt on open fields. They may perch on telephone poles waiting for prey to appear, or they may simply catch warm updrafts to enjoy a gentle breeze.

When you attract hawks to your yard, you are also likely to attract the miniature falcons known as American Kestrels.

American Kestrels are found in the same places as Red-Tailed Hawks, plus all of Mexico, all of Central America, and Jamaica.

These tiny falcons prefer to hunt over open grasslands with sparse trees, but they need at least a few trees with hollow cavities to build their nests.

These birds don’t build nests, although they will sometimes take over old woodpecker nests.

American Kestrels dare to harass eagles and large hawks and are known to drive squirrels out of prime nesting territory.

Attracting hawks to your backyard is a considerable achievement for backyard birdwatchers.

Watching these seldom-seen birds of prey in your own backyard will give you a great understanding of how birds share your world.

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