If you do bird watching almost anywhere in the Americas, chances are that you are familiar with hawks.
This exceptionally skillful predator perches on branches of trees on the edge of open spaces, such as a stream, a pasture, a fish pond, or your backyard.
It can wait for hours for smaller birds and small furry animals to come into sight.
Hawks swoop down on their prey with astonishing speed.
They generally pick up the animals they attack and carry them away to be consumed elsewhere—but how much weight can a hawk carry?
Do we need to worry about hawks carrying away the pets we love?
The answer to this common question, it turns out, depends on the kind of hawk being discussed.
How Much Weight Hawk Can Carry Depends On the Hawk Species
Let’s look at common Hawk species and how much they can carry.
The most common kind of hawk in North America is the red-tailed hawk.
It can lift as much as 5 pounds (2.25 kg)—but it can’t carry a load that size very far.
That’s enough power to pick up a kitten, a puppy, a full-grown Chihuahua, or a small adult cat.
Unfortunately, most small animals taken away by red-tailed hawks fall to their death, and are then consumed on the ground.
Chicken Hawk (aka Copper Hawk)
A chicken hawk, also known as Cooper’s hawk, can carry about 1.2 pounds (500 grams).
That’s enough power to carry away a chick, but not a chicken.
Like red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks often consume their prey on the ground. If they see another, larger animal or a human being nearby, however, they will hunt somewhere else.
A powerful kind of hawk known as an osprey, on the other hand, may try to carry a fish weighing as much as 5 to 6 pounds (2.2 to 2.7 kg), but will drown if it does not let go of the fish before it crashes into the water.
Ospreys that do not let go of heavy fish can drown.
Also read: What Do Hawks Eat? All You Need to Know!
Why Do We Care How Much Weight a Hawk Can Carry?
No hawk will carry off your child or most larger dogs and cats.
However, a hawk swooping down to catch a mouse, a lizard, or a small snake (its usual food) can cause serious injury.
So, what should you do to keep pets and people safe from raptors?
Puppies, kittens, rabbits/rodents need to be supervised when outside
Hawks can see clearly four to eight times as far as people do. They can see small oats from 100 yards (about 90 meters) away.
But they will also see you when you are outside supervising your pets.
Supervising your pets when they are playing in your backyard keeps them safer, and keeps your neighbor’s pets safer, too.
It is particularly important to keep an eye on small pets when they are splashing in a kiddie pool or confined with a puppy gate in an open space.
Pets weighing less than 15 pounds (7 kg) need supervision too
It is highly unlike that any hawk would be able to carry off any pet weighing more than 5 pounds (2.2 kg). But hawks may attack animals that weigh up to 15 pounds (6.6 kg).
New Mexico-based wildlife charity Hawks Aloft has three suggestions for keeping your smaller pets safe from hawks, owls, eagles, and other raptors when they are playing outdoors.
- Use the buddy system. Pair smaller pets with larger pets that hawks will find intimidating.
- Protect your pets with Kevlar or a reflective vest. A puncture-proof vest prevents serious injury from a hawk’s talons, should your pet and the hawk get into a fight.
- Use earth-friendly methods to make your backyard a place hawks will want to avoid.
Also read: Do Hawks Attack Humans?
How to Keep Hawks Out of Your Backyard
If you have maintained a healthy habitat for wildlife, hawks will find your backyard as a food source.
There are many ways to keep hawks out of your yard that doesn’t do harm to them or the other creatures who visit your lawn.
Put up an animatronic Owl
Hawks eat small animals. But owls sometimes eat hawks.
If a hawk sees an owl guarding your property for itself, it will fly away for a safer hunting ground.
You can scare away hawks with animatronic owls, without introducing a new predator to your backyard.
Animatronic owls are designed to look like owls from to hawks looking down on them. They can be equipped with special effects, such as flapping wings, hooting and screeching, and flapping wings.
You will need to make sure your animatronic owl’s batteries stay charged, however.
You will also need to move your animatronic decoy owl every few days to keep the hawks from realizing it is not real.
Shelter your bird feeders
Hawks eat small songbirds.
They swoop down for a quick meal while songbirds are taking a drink out of a sugar water feeder or pecking a seed out of a seed ball or a mealworm on a platform feeder.
Protecting the birds you feed from overhead attacks encourages hawks to stalk a different yard.
Place bird feeders under an umbrella, on a window with a few feet of roof overhead, or in a gazebo.
Deter hawks with ultrasound
Hawks can send a variety of high-frequency signals to each other when they sense danger.
Hawks that hear these ultrasound messages, which are outside the human range of hearing, fly away until the coast is clear.
Ultrasonic hawk repellers will work for several days, until the hawks realize there isn’t actually a hawk in distress in your backyard.
Use them for a few days at a time, say, three days on, three days off, along with other methods of keeping hawks away.
Install bird spikes on roof lines, ledges, and in trees
Hawks perch on flat surfaces while they stalk their prey.
Plastic bird spikes keep them from roosting on the flat surfaces that give them a view of the animals in your backyard.
Bird spikes don’t hurt birds, they just keep them from landing.
The only thing to remember is not to install bird spikes on a horizontal surface, since pigeons could then use them to secure their nests.
Eliminate vantage points
Don’t leave hawks and other raptors places from which they can do surveillance over your yard.
Any time you see hawks overhead, look for the places they perch.
- Look for perches that have a line of sight to your bird feeders or patio, where you allow your pets. Block the line of sight.
- Cut down dead trees, the hawk’s favorite habitat.
- Remove dead or dying branches that don’t have any leaves, giving hawks an unobstructed field of view.
- Cap posts and fences with bird spikes.
- Block the view from any high vantage point up to 300 feet (90 meters) away. Hawks can swoop in from as much as 300 feet away to capture prey.
Get a guard dog
Some dogs, such as sighthounds (Afghans, Bozors, whippets, greyhounds, Salukis, Slughis, wolfhounds, and deerhounds), terriers, pointers, and bloodhounds instinctively chase predatory birds away.
The downside of using dogs of these breeds as guard dogs in your backyard is that they will tend to chase songbirds away, too.
However, if they are not in your yard all the time, their presence will do more good than harm.
Other dogs, such as sheep dogs, mastiffs, and Great Pyrenees will tend to make friends with birds. They aren’t a lot of help with keeping hawks away.
Keep mice and squirrels in control
Mice and squirrels are an important part of the hawk’s diet. Controlling these rodents makes your backyard less attractive to hawks.
Never put out poison to kill rats or squirrels.
Pets and children, as well as desirable wildlife, can get into it. In most places, it is unlawful to shoot rats or squirrels.
Instead, take away the rodent’s incentive to visit your yard. Keep woodpiles elevated off the ground, with squirrels flashing on each pedestal.
Don’t let the grass get high, trim underneath rose bushes and prickly shrubs, remove dead palm fronds, and never let trash accumulate in your yard.
Don’t scatter birdseed on the ground
Songbirds are especially vulnerable to hawk attacks when they are feeding on the ground.
Cover any platform feeders you put out for your birds.
Protect chickens with chicken wire
Chicken wire keeps chickens in their coop. It also keeps hawks out.
Also read: How Long Do Hawks Stay In One Area?
Frequently Asked Questions About Protecting Pets and People from Hawks
Q. Do hawks eat pets?
A. Hawks usually don’t eat pets. But scratches on a pet’s neck or back can lead to infections and considerable pain for your pet.
A hawk that attempts to carry your pet away may drop it from a height sufficient to cause a fatal injury.
Q. Is there any way to keep hawks away from an open chicken run?
A. The best way to protect chickens is to get a rooster. Hawks will avoid confrontation with roosters.
However, a rooster will fertilize the eggs your chickens lay and wake you up every morning.
Q. We have a summer house on the beach in Maine (on a rocky shore). Do we need to protect our puppies and kittens from ospreys?
A. Ospreys tend to reuse the same nest year after year. If you see a large, flat nest on a power pole, in a tree, or on a ledge that is made from sticks, sod, grass, and algae, be on the lookout for ospreys.
Keep your small pets inside. Make sure larger pets do not chase squirrels or rodents, which can bring them into competition with the hawk.
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