What Do Hawks Eat? All You Need to Know!

Hawks are a type of bird called raptors which are also known as birds of prey.

The word raptor originates from the Latin word rapio, which means “to take by force or seize”.

These predatory birds are classified under the Accipitridae family. They are grouped with other birds of prey, such as eagles, vultures, and falcons.

Hawks prey on a diverse range of animals that may be dead or alive. They swallow their meal whole, along with feathers and bones. Whatever they can’t digest, they regurgitate from their bodies through their mouths.

Their diet may differ according to the availability of prey.

They hunt small animals and birds such as mice, pigeons, sparrows, quails, cardinals, doves, etc. They will even eat snakes, bats, lizards, rabbits, and fish! The diet of a hawk is divergent and assorted.

They are known to carry off small baby animals such as lambs and dogs when they are starving.

Before we dive into their dietary habits, lets first explore what characteristics make hawks such great hunters:

Characteristics of Hawks

Hawks have a 20/2 vision with extremely sharp eyesight. They can see more than eight times as keenly as humans. Their talons are strong and have a good grip.

They also have hooked beaks that allow them to carry their prey in their mouths easily. Their beaks also help them tear away the flesh off their prey.

Hawks are muscular and admirable fliers. They can reach speeds of up to 150 miles per hour when they dive for their prey.

They can also travel thousands of miles to migrate. All of these characteristics determine a hawk’s eating habits.

Habitat of Hawks

Hawks are found all over the world, thriving in varying habitats. They’re found in desserts and woodlands. Hawks are on top of the food chain as they are carnivorous hunters.

However, reptiles that snack on eggs in high places can hun hawk eggs.

Recently, hawk habitats have been facing calamities due to human behavior.

Excessive pollution is destroying woodlands and, in turn, hawk habitats. Their habitats are being destroyed, posing a direct threat to the hawk population.

Species of Hawks

Hawks have numerous species according to their habitat.

Accipiters are woodland hawks that have short, rounded wings and long tails.

Their long tails help them balance on tree branches. Their wings, on the other hand, are specialized to dart towards prey perched on trees.

Another species of hawks are the Buteos.

These are also known as soaring hawks and have broader wings as compared to Accipiters. They soar high and swoop down to catch their prey in their beaks or talons.

Eating Habits of Hawks

Predators are a natural part of the food chain and bring balance and order to the world. Although they may seem like vicious creatures, their eating habits are necessary to balance the ecosystem.

Raptors are carnivores that only eat meat. Accipiters primarily feed on birds, squirrels, and cottontail rabbits. They prefer animals that dwell on the ground.

There are numerous species of hawks that all have different habitats. They have adjusted to these habitats by consuming a variety of different prey.

Let’s explore the eating habits of different types of hawks:

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged hawks hover in place on high grounds. They search keenly for rodents and prey that may be scuttering on the ground.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged hawks scan the ground continuously for movement. When they spot something moving with their sharp eyes, they swoop down and catch their prey in their talons.

These hawks eat rodents, lemmings, voles, young hares and rabbits, or other small animals and birds. Rough-legged hawks often perch on fence posts, power poles, tree branches, or other high areas.

Rough-legged hawks are migratory birds that nest in the Arctic and the tundra. They will feast on animal carcasses, known as carrion…if that is the only food available. This is likely during winters when food is scarce.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s hawk is an average-sized member of the hawk family.

Cooper's Hawk

It feeds on small birds and land mammals. Their hunting style is speedy and stealthy. They swoop down acrobatically at speeds so fast that their prey doesn’t see them coming.

Cooper’s hawk loves snacking on songbirds (such as jays, robins, and doves) and rodents like chipmunks, mice, and squirrels. These hawks have big appetites and can be spotted when their young are begging for food.

They live in suburban neighborhoods with lots of trees where they can hide in dense canopies.

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks change their diets to suit the season.

Swainson's Hawk

During mating season in Spring, small mammals are in ample supply, which the Swainson’s Hawks enjoy.

After mating season is over, they may change their dietary patterns. They switch to insects such as dragonflies and grasshoppers, which are bountiful during summer. They even feed on insect larvae.

Swainson’s Hawks can be found near freshly tilled fields where insects are found on the soil’s surface. They lurk around wildfires in wait of prey that try to escape the woods.

Sharp-skinned Hawk

Sharp-skinned hawks are like Cooper’s hawk, only smaller.

Sharp-skinned Hawk

They are the smallest species of hawks found in Northern America.

Their diet almost entirely consists of songbirds, which makes them the most likely predator.

Sharp-skinned hawks feast on the smaller size of songbirds which includes birds like chickadee or sparrows.

They may be found lurking near bird feeders, especially in winters.

If bird feeders and situated near evergreen trees or forests, it is likely that sharp-skinned hawk may be hiding in the shadows.

Northern Goshawks

As the name suggests, the Northern Goshawks are primarily found in the Northern Hemisphere in Canada and the USA.

Northern Goshawks

Northern Goshawks are the largest types of hawks in North America. Their flight is silent and swift as they catch their prey.

Like most other hawks, goshawks like to hide behind a curtain of dense leaves. Because Northern Goshawks are significantly bigger, their diet is a little varied. It consists of snowshoe hares, grouse, corvids, woodpeckers, songbirds, and squirrels.

They hunt both in forests and open areas depending on the availability of prey. Goshawks are opportunistic predators and will eat whatever they lay their eyes on first. Goshawks are non-migratory predators and are considered to be endangered, like several other species of hawks.

Red-Tailed Hawk

The red-tailed hawk is the most common species of hawk in Northern America.

Red-tailed Hawk

They love to fly and are very active, unlike other hawks that like to stay perched on high grounds.

Red-tailed hawks love to flap their wings, but they are not so aerodynamic. They prefer prey that is slow and can’t fly away. They hunt in open grounds where the prey is visible and can’t hide.

They can reach a speed of more than 120 miles per hour to catch their prey. They mainly eat small mammals such as mice, shrews, moles, and squirrels. However, they can also eat animals as large as a raccoon. They might even fly away with dogs and cats!

Red-tailed hawks eat rabbits, ducks, grasshoppers, bats, fish, snakes, frogs, lizards, small birds, and various other foods they get their talons on. Like the Northern goshawk, red-tailed hawks are also opportunistic hunters and won’t say no to an easy meal.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-winged hawks eat insects, reptiles, and small mammals.

Broad-winged Hawk

They will eat whatever is available at a certain time of the year. Broad-winged hawks soar high and make high-pitched calls to attract potential mates and warn predators.

Broad-winged hawks like to stay in groups called kettles which consist of thousands of hawks and even other predators. Thermal air currents fuel their migration journeys to preserve energy used to fly long distances.

Ferruginous Hawks

Ferruginous Hawks nest on the ground and are small mammal hunters.

Ferruginous Hawk

They can be found near rabbit holes and dens and burrows of small mammals. They prefer animals that stay on the ground, as opposed to the ones that fly.

Their diet consists of squirrels, jackrabbits, small mammals, gophers, snakes, prairie dogs, etc. Ferruginous Hawks can be seen flying around in open fields where most of their prey is found. They may hunt in groups to maximize their chances of catching prey and feast together on the catch.

Bottom Line

The natural world exists on a balance. Every creature has a purpose and a place in the food chain.

Hawks are beautiful and majestic creatures that may be seen as vicious by lovers of songbirds, but they are just as important in preserving the natural balance.

You may catch sight of these beautiful birds when bird watching or simply taking a stroll.

Take a moment and appreciate them. Several species of hawks are endangered. Learn more about them and try to preserve these fascinating creatures.

Other articles you may also like: