3 Powerful Facts About Do Hawks Eat Snakes

do hawks eat snakes Yes, hawks eat snakes. Hawks are hunters, and snakes are part of their diet. Hawks are powerful birds of prey that occupy the skies across various habitats around the world. Known for their sharp talons and curved beaks used for hunting, different hawk species can take down prey of varying sizes through skilled aerial attacks. One common question regarding a hawk’s diet is – do hawks eat snakes? As limbless reptiles are often hidden among the brush, snakes may seem an unlikely meal choice as opposed to small mammals or other birds. However, several hawk species do hunt, kill, and feast on snakes as a dietary supplement.

Hawks That Eat Snakes

Several species of hawks are snake predators, equipped with the speed, vision, tools, and technique to successfully capture snake meals in environments where they coexist. Some hawks known to feed on snakes include:

  • Red-Tailed Hawks: The most common hawk in North America. An opportunistic feeder that preys on snakes like rattlesnakes, rat snakes, and racers.
  • Harris Hawks: Found in semi-arid environments of the Southwest. Hunts rattlesnakes and other snakes by foot in coordinated packs.
  • Cooper’s Hawks: A woodland hawk that uses surprise attack to overtake and feed on snakes from garter snakes to black rat snakes.
  • Laughing Falcon: A tropical raptor that feeds almost exclusively on snakes like racers and vine snakes which it drops from heights to kill.
  • Crested Serpent Eagle: As the name suggests, this African and Asian eagle is a snake-hunting specialist, feeding on venomous snakes other raptors avoid.
  • Secretary Bird: This distinctive terrestrial raptor stomps snakes like cobras and vipers to death before consuming them whole.

How Do Hawks Eat Snakes Without Getting Bitten?

When hunting snakes, hawks employ specialized tactics to avoid getting envenomated which could prove fatal. Different hazards call for different approaches when feeding on snakes:

Venomous Snakes

  • Grab directly behind the snake’s head to restrict biting ability
  • Utilize longer legs and wings to stay beyond striking range
  • Swiftly kill snake after capture with a crushing talon grip


  • Strike before the snake can wrap its coils around the hawk
  • Use beak and talons to inflict mortal wounds quickly
  • Maintain grasp on snake’s head and neck to limit constriction

By donning protective raptor legs scales, avoiding vital strikes, and killing snakes quickly, hawks can feast on serpents without falling prey themselves.

Hawk Species That Eat Snakes

In addition to specialized snake predators, many common hawk species are known to prey on snakes as part of their behavioral ecology:

Hawk SpeciesSnake Prey
Red-Tailed HawkRattlesnakes, Rat Snakes, Racers
Cooper’s HawkGarter Snakes, Rat Snakes
Harris’s HawkRattlesnakes
White-Tailed HawkRacers, Whipsnakes
Grey HawkRacers, Whipsnakes
Roadside HawkRacers, Whipsnakes

The widespread nature of these hawk species exposes more regional snakes to aerial raptor predation. With snake hunting even conducted by generalist hawks, serpents must remain vigilant to threats from above in shared environments.

How Do Hawks Catch and Eat Snakes?

Hawks employ specialized hunting strategies to successfully capture, kill, and consume snake meals:

1. Spotting – With white below and dark above, snakes are well-camouflaged from terrestrial predators. But hawks scope out landscapes from above, using exceptional vision to spot snake shapes and movement.

2. Capture – Hawks attack from the air, reaching speeds over 120 mph, and snatch up exposed snakes with their sharp talons in the blink of an eye. The surprise ambush aims to grab snakes behind their head before they can strike in defense.

3. Kill – Employing its powerful grasp and curved beak, the hawk quickly delivers crushing blows and bites to the snake’s head and neck vertebrae to paralyze and kill fast. Some species first fly the snake to a high point and drop it to inflict fatal impact trauma.

4. Consume – Hawks use curved beaks like a knife to slice snake meat into pieces to swallow more easily. Often, feathers are first plucked as hawks grasp snakes in their talons and tear off pieces to consume. Bones are discarded as indigestible.

This swift, vicious assault makes snakes a practical addition to a hawk’s predatory strategy in shared environments.

Do Hawks Prey On Snakes?

Many common North American hawks do supplement their small mammal and bird diet with snakes. As accessible reptilian prey, snakes can provide sustenance to various raptors.

According to a University of Michigan 2001 snake study examining 1,200+ regurgitated hawk pellets of undigested matter, traces of snakes appeared in:

  • 17% of Red-Tailed Hawk pellets
  • 14% of Red-Shouldered Hawk pellets
  • 33% of Cooper’s Hawk pellets

This study exposes widespread hawks less associated with snakes as snake predators, though smaller snakes may be more typical prey than large constrictors. Still, the confirmed presence of snakes in hawk pellets supports opportunistic hawks capitalizing on snakes as prey when exposed.

Do Hawks Eat The Whole Snake?

Rarely do hawks swallow snakes whole, owing to the snake’s elongated shape which can span over 5 feet in length. However, smaller snakes are more readily consumed whole.

After prey capture, hawks instead tear snakes into pieces starting at the midpoint using their razor sharp beaks. They may remove the head first before systematically shredding the snake’s body into smaller sections to consume more readily. Rippling neck muscles allow snakes to be torn efficiently down to the bones which are later regurgitated as pellets.

So ultimately, hawks may eat most of a snake but not typically the entire snake intact. Snake blood and meat is absorbed while bones and scales are discarded as indigestible hawk puke.

Do Hawks Eat Big Snakes?

Can a hawk pick up and feast on extra large snakes like boa constrictors, reticulated pythons, or venomous bushmasters that can weigh over 100 pounds and grow beyond 20 feet?

While hawks possess the weapons to kill big snakes, their lighter weight and aerial attack strategy prevents them from carrying very large, heavy adult snakes. Most hawks can only lift about one-third of their own weight.

However, reports exist of large female red-tailed hawks preying on juvenile pythons and boas. Still, giant snakes’ thick muscle and body girth makes them challenging prey, though some hawks may opportunistically target them.

Do Hawks Eat Cobras

Given proper proximity and opportunity, some hawks do hunt, kill and consume various venomous snake species, cobras included.

With speed and skills honed for picking snakes up behind their hood to avoid venomous bites there, Singapore’s black baza, African crowned eagle and secretary bird are all known to swoop down on king cobras as prey in shared habitat when the snakes expose themselves in the open seeking food or sun.

By hunting cobras without hesitation, these large raptors exhibit resistance to otherwise potent venom other animals avoid, likely having evolved physiological defenses over time against snake toxin threats that make cobras practical protein sources.

Do Hawks Eat Copperheads

As North America’s most common venomous snake found throughout forests of the Eastern US, copperheads seem easy targets for low flying hawks scanning the ground cover below.

Indeed Cooper’s hawks and red-tailed hawks native to the same woodland and semi-urban habitats have been documented feeding on copperheads. Likely they employ swift surprise snake capture behind the head and rapid killing with crushing talon blows to minimize venom risks that bills and feet scale armor also protect against.

Adding venomous snakes expands hunting opportunity. And by facing the dangers, hawks gain nutritious bonus snake meat other animals may avoid, able to neutralize tox.

Do Hawks Eat Garter Snakes

As one of the most widespread snake species across North America, common garter snakes constitute easy snake prey for hunting hawks in overlapping environments.

Cooper’s hawks in particular integrate cold-climate-dwelling garter snakes into their reptilian diet. Lacking venom and significant size for defense, harmless garter snakes are more vulnerable to the element of surprise hawk talon attacks from above. Hawks then carry snatched garters off intact to feast on their meat.

Easy capture and mild flavor likely explains the appeal of garter snakes for hawks able to swallow the smaller varieties whole once the head is removed by sharply hooked raptor beaks.

Do Hawks Eat King Snakes

The king snake’s defensive tactic is to mimic deadly venomous coral snakes in appearance through vibrant red, black and white banding. However this mimicry proves ineffective against hawks hunting from high perches over ground cover.

Red-tailed hawks, Harris hawks and eastern king hawks all opportunistically feed on various species of king snakes as part of their dietary ecology in overlapping North American ranges. Specialized snake handlers, these raptors pay no mind to venom mimics, instead seeking out all snakes for available protein.

Frequent king snake predation by birds of prey exposes mimicking limitations, denying fraudulent toxicity from fooling a hawk’s feast.

Do Hawks Eat Poisonous Snakes

Not only do hawks target non-venomous species, but poisoning snakes make up a reasonable portion of some hawk diets as well in shared habitats.

Equipped with threat avoidance techniques like swift surprise attacks and hawk armor, red-tailed hawks for example are resistant to venom doses that could kill mammalian predators like foxes or coyotes. Allowing them to supplement mammalian meals with rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins across the continent.

Specialist snake hawks like secretary birds and crowned eagles even focus diet efforts on deadly vipers and cobras. Clearly highlighting raptor advantage against snake chemical warfare over millennia.

Do Hawks Eat Pythons

Hawks most certainly prey on snakes, but can an aerial raptor take down and feast on heavyweight constrictors like pythons?

Documented cases exist of large female northern harriers and red-tailed hawks preying on smaller juvenile pythons and boa constrictors in regions like south Florida where escaped exotic serpents establish invasive populations.

But pythons’ thick muscle and possible 20 foot lengths make them challenging prey – better left to packs of coyotes. Outside rare opportunistic attacks on juveniles, hawks must focus efforts on more practical snake prey their flight muscles can manage.

Do Hawks Eat Rattlesnakes

As abundant desert dwellers of the American west, heavy-bodied pit vipers like rattlesnakes contribute to hawk sustenance in hot, arid regions.

Red-tailed hawks and Harris hawks specifically target rattlers as snake prey. Swift air attacks from behind limit venom risks, then crushing talons dispatch prey for safe handling. Adapted legs then carry off intact snakes for dining.

Frequent predation upon dangerous vipers exposes advanced threat response capabilities within these rugged American hawks, able to turn toxin into nutrition.

Why Don’t Snakes Constrict Hawks?

When facing hawk attacks, why don’t snakes try wrapping themselves around striking talons and legs to subdue predators through constriction like they use to overpower mammal threats?

The answer lies in inferior snake reaction time. Hawks reach 60+ mph dives, snatching up snakes before body coils activate. Low poised hawk legs and wings also remain beyond snake reach throughout the ambush.

With no means to entwine attackers, the snake’s only defense becomes attempting to bite – which raptor handling skills overcome through swift capture behind the head to enjoy snake meat minus the venom.

Do Hawks Eat Poisonous Snakes?

Yes – many hawk species do in fact hunt, kill and feast on venomous snake species as supplemental prey to small mammals and other birds.

Specially adapted raptors like secretary birds purposefully target deadly vipers, while widespread red-tailed hawks feed on local rattlesnakes and copperheads. Their evolved toxin resistance, swift attack strategies and protective scales allow snacking on snakes too poisonous for mammalian predators.

This exposes intertwined co-evolution between raptors and serpents over eons. As snakes developed stronger venom for defense and prey subduing, hawks responded in kind with heightened physical and physiological venom resistance opening access to the meat within while averting the venom sack itself.

What Do Hawks Eat Snakes

As opportunistic aerial hunters, hawks eat snakes to supplement small mammal and bird diets across habitats where they coexist. Hawks employ specialized hunting strategies to safely capture snakes, tear off pieces and consume snake flesh as a protein source while avoiding envenomation. Snakes from garter snakes to rattlesnakes provide ready prey for red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, Harris hawks and others able to utilize steely talons and hooked beaks to swiftly kill and feed on serpents. Their resistance to venom and skill securing snakes behind the head to neuter strikes allows hawks to feast on spare reptiles most mammals would avoid.

How Do Hawks Eat Snakes

Hawks eat snakes through a systematic predatory process: First utilizing superior aerial vantage to spot snake shapes and movement below, the raptor then initiates a steep attack dive reaching over 60mph to snatch exposed prey in razor sharp talons. Carrying the snake to a safe perch, the hawk uses its curved beak like a knife to dispatch the snake with precise blows behind the head before systematically tearing flesh into smaller consumable pieces. Discarding bones, the hawk feeds on the meat section by section until satisfied while avoiding envenomation throughout the assault.

Do Hawks Eat Snakes in the Desert

Yes, hawks are frequent snake predators across desert landscapes. Red-tailed hawks scan the arid ground below for movement from trembling rattlers and racers while Harris’s hawks work in packs to better secure dangerous sidewinders. Adaptations like thick leg scales, precision attack techniques and venom resistance allow desert hawks to integrate risky vipers more abundantly into diets as ready protein sources other predators often avoid. This displays the intricate co-evolution between raptors and desert serpents over time.

Do Hawks Eat Birds

Yes, birds constitute a major part of most hawk diets. Employing their supreme aerial capabilities, hawks prey on varied bird species from songbirds like robins to pigeons, crows, chickens, turkeys, ducks and more. Accipiters like Cooper’s hawks specialize in catching other birds in flight with dense wing muscles driving rapid dives and maneuvers. Larger hawks like eagles prey on sizeable waterfowl as well. With hooked beaks evolved for tearing avian flesh, raptors certainly integrate a diversity of bird meat into regular dietary needs.

Do Hawks Eat Squirrels

As small, quick mammals often active by day, squirrels too make up frequent targets for hunger-driven hawks. Patroling treetops to grassy areas from utility lines, sharp-eyed hawks surprise attack busy squirrels. Hawk species often seen feeding on tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks and prairie dogs include versatile red-tailed hawks, agile Cooper’s hawks, and the abundant sharp-shinned hawk thriving across North America where squirrels reside. Squirrels provide common hawk protein.

Do Hawks Eat Rabbits

As prolific small mammals in many habitats, rabbits often constitute prey for numerous hawks, especially red-tailed hawks, the most common and widespread North American raptor overlapping with rabbit dense areas. Utilizing superior vision and precision dive attacks at over 60 mph to seize large rabbits, hawks also target smaller young often, carrying them back whole in razor sharp talons to feed either intact or shredding meat into chunks with the raptor’s hooked beak specialized for feeding on furry animals.


In closing, a diversity of hawk species across habitats, regions, and continents do hunt and integrate snakes into their predatory diets. Employing aerial surveillance and swift surgical ambush tactics allows different hawks to avoid snake venom and constriction defenses to capture, kill and consume snakes other predators may avoid. With access to added protein sources, dietary snake predation expands raptor hunting opportunity while also influencing snake behavior and defensive evolution over time through this lasting predator-prey relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hawks and Snakes

What does a hawk eat?

Hawks are carnivorous predators that use sharp talons and curved beaks to hunt birds, mammals and reptiles. Small rodents like mice and voles make up a typical hawk diet along with other birds like pigeons and songbirds. Snakes also provide supplemental prey for a number of hawk species.

What is the relationship between a hawk and a snake?

As aerial apex predators and ground-dwelling stealthy reptiles, hawks and snakes interact through a common predator-prey relationship that influences behaviors. Hawks swoop down to ambush snakes and integrate them into regular diets. Fear of hawk attacks in turn impact snake activities and defense priorities.

What are the predators of snakes?

Key predators that kill and eat snakes include various birds of prey like hawks, eagles, and owls, plus mammalian predators like coyotes, foxes, wild cats, and mongoose. Snakes fall prey to even more venomous species as well, with king cobras eating other snakes.

Can a snake eat a bird?

Yes, many larger constrictor species like pythons and boas which are ambush hunters on land or in trees eat birds regularly, including chickens, wild songbirds, pigeons, and birds of prey like hawks or owls if they can ambush them from hiding.

What eats a hawk?

Adult hawks achieve relative apex predator status given powerful aerial hunting skills. But hawk eggs and fledgling young still vulnerable in nests can fall prey to opportunistic snakes, raccoons, bears, bobcats, eagles and even crows at times.

What god’s symbol is a hawk?

The hawk served as an important symbolic sacred animal for ancient Egyptian god Horus and solar deities like Ra and Osiris. Ancient Greek god Apollo also valued hawks, along with goddesses Artemis and Athena across Greek and Roman culture.

What is a snake’s biggest enemy?

Mongooses and secretary birds specialize in snake hunting defense skills. But most snakes inevitably contend with birds of prey like omnipresent red-tailed hawks as consistent aerial threats reading to swoop down and making snakes vigilant skyward.

What animal is the best snake killer?

The mongoose exhibits specific evolutionary traits like lightning quick reflexes, thick hide, specialized acetylcholine resistance and blood vessels protecting against venom that make it the world’s most prolific snake killing machine, able to take on king cobras.

What is a snake’s biggest predator?

Statistically across environments worldwide, various bird of prey species collectively from hawks to eagles that can utilize speed, vision and weapons from the safety of flight likely account for more annual snake meals than any other category of predators.

Other Hawks Articles You’ll Love:

About the Author: Hudaibia

My name is Hudaibia with the profound passion for our feathered friends. Birds have captivated my heart and mind since childhood. Now I share my avian devotion through my website, mybirdfeed.com.