Hawks are amazing predators.
These raptors spend long hours quietly perched on a limb of a tree, camouflaged by leaves and twigs.
When they spot potential prey, they swoop down to attack.
Their beaks and talons give them the ability to quickly overpower small animals that they then eat.
Do Hawks Attack Humans?
Hawks are not strong enough to carry away a fully grown pet or a small child.
But they do, in very rare circumstances, attack humans they feel threatened by.
It helps to be able to understand your encounter with a backyard hawk from the hawk’s perspective.
We’ll start by going over the fighting capacity of hawks. But first, let’s clear up some terminology that applies to hawks.
Also read: How Much Weight Can a Hawk Carry?
Hawks and Buzzards
There are a number of birds that North Americans call “hawks” that English speakers in other parts of the world call “buzzards.”
For purposes of the safety of your family and your pets, the information here applies to both.
You can also use the information in this article to protect yourself from painful encounters with the larger birds that North Americans call buzzards.
Also read: Hawk vs. Falcon – What’s the difference?
Hawks Are Hunters
Hawks are well-equipped as birds of prey.
They consume a predictable diet of mice, squirrels, frogs, rabbits, snakes, lizards, and birds—small animals that they can find on or near the ground, or on or near the surface of still water.
They prefer to hunt from a high, hidden perch overlooking a large open area, like your backyard.
Hawks have exceptionally keen eyesight. Humans, for example, have about 200,000 photoreceptors in each retina.
Hawks have a million photoreceptors in each eye. The fovea in the back of each eye of the hawk is indented, turning the central portion of the hawk’s eye into a kind of natural magnifying glass.
Hawks can see all the colors that humans can see, plus ultraviolet light.
You might be surprised to learn that hawks have ears. hidden behind their feathers.
Other birds can only hear high-pitched sounds, with a frequency of 1,000 to 5,000 cycles per second.
Hawks have hearing comparable to what humans have as children, capable of detecting sounds with frequencies of 20 to 20,000 cycles per second.
Dr. William Rice of Oregon State University published a report finding that hawks can hear small animals as much as 3 to 4 miles (5 to 6.4 km) away!
You and your pets can’t really hide from hawks. But these birds are not especially aggressive toward humans except in one special situation.
Also read: What Do Hawks Eat?
When and Where Is a Hawk Most Likely to Attack?
Hawks are intelligent birds.
They know that if they get in a fight with a bear, a big dog, or a human, they are going to lose. But there is one situation in which you could feel the sharp talons of defensive hawks.
Hawks sometimes attack birdwatchers who get too close to their nests.
These birds always attack from behind. You won’t see a dive-bombing hawk until it is too late to get out of its way.
But you will almost never be attacked by a hawk while you are walking across your lawn or hiking through a meadow.
Hawks only attack humans, and larger pets that they think may be getting too close to their nests or to their young.
Hawks Defend Their Nests
The Audubon Field Guide tells us that the red-tailed hawk, the hawk you are most likely to encounter in North America and even as far south as Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, likes to build its nest in the highest place it can find.
Red-tailed hawks will build their nests in trees up to 120 feet (37 meters) tall. They will nest on cliff-sides and occasionally on top of tall buildings.
Red-tailed hawks mate for life. They use the same nest year after year. The male scouts an area of up to 1000 acres (400 hectares) for food and to keep other raptors away, while the female zealously attacks any potential threats to her eggs or her “kettle” of young.
It doesn’t make any difference to the hawk whether you could climb the tree or scale the cliff where she has her nest. She doesn’t take any chances when she sees you approach.
Usually, the mother hawk will screech and fly close to you to scare you away.
If you freeze, or you defiantly hold your ground, the hawk will come back for you with its talons stretched out.
You won’t suffer injuries like these small animals featured in a Discovery video. (Warning: Some viewers may find these images disturbing)
But you could find yourself being attacked by a particularly aggressive local hawk-like 15 people in Northport, New York.
Sometimes, an attacking hawk will just run its talons through your hair.
But about half the time, it will cause scratches on the face, shoulders, or neck, requiring a trip to the ER for stitches.
Also read: Are Blue Jays Mean/Aggressive?
What Should You Do If You See a Hawk Approaching?
Running away from a hawk is exactly the wrong thing to do. Hawks attack from behind.
The hawk will take your running away as a signal that it can attack you safely.
Instead, when you see a hawk flying toward you, face it. Wave your arms stretched out to make yourself look bigger.
If it screeches, or even if it doesn’t, you should shout back at it to scare it away. However, if these protective measures don’t work, be ready to duck!
Hawks Are a Threat to Backyard Chickens, Kittens, Puppies, Pond Fish, and Birds
Hawks can injure people. They can kill pets.
Different kinds of hawks pose a threat to different kinds of pets.
Chicken Hawk (Cooper’s Hawk)
A chicken hawk (also known as Cooper’s hawk), for instance, is a threat to pet chickens.
It can’t fly away with a chicken that weighs more than about a pound (450 grams).
It could fly away with a just-hatched chick. It can attack chickens of any size, however, and eat them on the ground. It may pick up larger birds and drop them to the ground to disable them for its final attack.
A red-tailed hawk can lift a much heavier load, up to 5 pounds (2.2 kilograms).
That’s the size of koi fish, backyard chickens and young ducks, kittens, puppies, small adult cats, miniature adult dogs, and pet birds that escaped from their cages.
It may lift its prey into the air and drop it to the ground to disable it. Then it will swoop down to finish it off.
How to Protect Small Pets from Hawks
The most important thing you can do to protect your pets from hawks is never to let your pets outside without your supervision.
A hawk can see your pet from as much as 100 meters (the length of an American football field) away. But it will see you guarding your pet, too.
It also helps to let your pets play outside on the buddy system.
If you are training your puppy to swim, for instance, make the occasion a play day for your dog, a neighbor’s dog, both supervised by you and your neighbor.
Hawks will regard multiple animals and multiple people supervising them as a threat to avoid.
The wildlife charity Hawks Aloft suggests giving small pets a protective Kevlar vest. It will protect them from scratches and make it impossible for hawks to pick them up.
You Can Hawk-Proof Your Backyard
You don’t have to worry about attacks from hawks defending their nests when you encourage them to live somewhere else.
Here’s how to hawk-proof your backyard without harming these amazing hunters.
Never Scatter Birdseed on the Ground
It can be tempting to take pity on hungry birds trying to find food in the snow.
But if you scatter birdseed directly on the snow or on bare ground, you are preparing a buffet for your neighborhood hawk.
Always feed songbirds from sheltered locations. Don’t leave food for them in locations where they will be vulnerable to predators swooping down from above.
Eliminate Surveillance Points
If a hawk can’t see you, it won’t dive bomb you to attack.
You can reduce the presence of hawks in your yard by getting rid of vantage points, such as dead trees and dead limbs on living trees.
It also helps to make sure hawks can land on fences and fence posts.
Cover these surveillance perches with bird spikes, which keep the hawk from landing. It also helps to block any line of sight from a nearby tall tree to your bird feeder.
Get a Guard Dog
While a hawk may pick a fight with dogs that weigh as much as 50 pounds (23 kilograms), there are certain breeds of dogs that are natural bird hunters.
Dogs bred for birding, such as whippets, Afghans, greyhounds, Salukis, and Bloodhounds, will keep hawks away.
These dogs will chase songbirds, too, but they can help you get a problem with hawks under control.
Big dogs aren’t intimidated by hawks. Sheepdogs, Newfoundlands, and Great Pyrenees may actually make friends with them. Big dogs don’t usually help keep your yard free of hawks.
Put Up an Animatronic Owl
There are species of birds that feed on hawks. One of them is the owl.
A decoy owl can cause hawks to fly away from your backyard before they cause any trouble.
Animatronic owls aren’t “dummies.” They can be programmed to flap their wings, activate red lights in their eyes, and make hooting sounds.
The downside of using an animatronic owl to frighten hawks that might visit your backyard is that it will frighten many songbirds, too, but there is a situation in which this works.
If the hawk is an occasional visitor to your backyard, it won’t stick around long to realize that your animatronic owl is not a real threat.
But if songbirds are regular visitors to your backyard, they will only need about a week to realize the ruse.
Put Up Reflective Features
High-flying birds like hawks find bright lights disorienting. They will avoid roofs covered with solar panels, or trees decorated with shiny wind chimes.
Bright, reflective lights interfere with their plotting a glide path to swoop down on their prey, so they go hunting somewhere else.
Don’t Place Bird Feeders Near Windows or In Open Spaces
Hawks build up speed to swoop down on their prey from behind.
They can’t do this when they have to slow down to avoid hitting the branches of a tree or an awning extending from your roof.
Keep Up with Rodent Control
Hawks feed on mice and rats. The fewer mice and rats you have in your backyard, the more likely they are to hunt somewhere else.
The most important thing you can do to control rodent popup;ations is to make sure they can’t get into your trash.
Use trash cans with secure lids that won’t fly off in the wind. Make sure everyone in your family knows to close the trash can when they take out the trash.
Don’t give mice and rats a home in your backyard. Elevate wood piles off the ground, and keep tall grass trimmed.
Place feeders for songbirds in protected places. Don’t put them out in the open, where the hawk can attack.
It is also better not to hang bird feeders near your windows.
Songbirds can become disoriented by their own reflection when a hawk dives down on them as they are feeding. The hawk can fail to “put on the brakes” and smash itself into the glass.
Feed Backyard Chickens in Their Enclosure
Chickens are not entirely defensive against hawks. Roosters, in particular, can fight a hawk (although they can also fight you and your other pets).
But no chicken comes away from an encounter with a hawk entirely unscathed.
The time chickens are most vulnerable to hawk attacks is when they are feeding—which is most of the time, if they are free range.
Use a portable chicken coop that you can move every day to give free-range chickens protection while they are grazing.
Put out chicken feed in containers in the chicken coop, or at least under a hawk-proof enclosure.
In conclusion, hawks are amazing predators and they have exceptional vision and hearing allowing them to hunt small animals.
While hawks are not typically aggressive towards humans, they may attack if they feel threatened, especially when defending their nests. There have been instances where hawks have tried to attack humans.
To protect pets from hawks, it is essential to supervise them when outside and keep them in groups to deter hawks from attacking.
Additionally, it is important to take steps to hawk-proof your backyard by eliminating surveillance points, putting up reflective features, controlling rodent populations, and using animatronic owls or guard dogs.
By taking these precautions, you can reduce the risk of hawk attacks and keep your pets safe.
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