7 Fascinating Facts: What Do Hawks Eat

what do hawks eat, As birds of prey, hawks are powerful hunters with sharp talons and curved beaks designed to rip and tear flesh. Hawks are carnivores that primarily eat small birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates. Understanding a hawk’s diet provides insight into their hunting skills, food chains, and role in local ecosystems.

How Often Do Hawks Eat?

Adult hawks generally eat once or twice per day. Nestlings and fledglings are fed smaller portions multiple times per day by their parents. The frequency and size of meals depend on factors like the hawk species, life stage, time of year, food availability, and success in hunting.

For example, a red-tailed hawk may consume about 3-4% of its body weight daily. A two-pound red-tailed hawk would eat around 2.5 ounces of food each day. In winter when prey is scarce, hawks may go several days without eating. After a successful hunt, hawks will gorge themselves and store extra fat to survive periods of famine.

A Complete List of 15 Foods Hawks Eat

Small mammalsSuch as mice, voles, rabbits, squirrels, rats
Small birdsIncluding songbirds, pigeons, doves
ReptilesLizards, snakes, turtles
AmphibiansFrogs, toads, salamanders
FishBoth wild freshwater and sea fish are taken
InvertebratesInsects, spiders, scorpions, earthworms
CarrionDead carcasses of large animals
EggsBird eggs and occasionally reptile eggs
CrustaceansCrabs, crayfish, shrimp
BatsUsually caught in flight around dusk
Other raptorsHawks are sometimes cannibals
GrainSeeds or crops like corn, wheat, soybeans
FruitEspecially in tropical regions
OffalGuts and organ meat from hunter kills
GarbageOpportunistic feeding around landfills

As you can see hawks have an extremely diverse diet feeding on many types of wildlife and even human food sources. Next, we’ll take a closer look at what specific hawk species eat.

What Do Different Types of Hawks Eat?

There are over 120 species of hawks worldwide occupying nearly every type of habitat. The diet of each hawk depends on its size, hunting skills, habitat, and locally available prey. Below are some examples:

Red-Tailed Hawks

The versatile red-tailed hawk lives across North America hunting in open fields, woodlands, and urban areas. Over 50% of their diet is small rodents like mice, voles, and squirrels. They also prey on rabbits, snakes, lizards, frogs, and assorted birds like pigeons, quail eggs, and smaller raptors. In winter they scavenge carrion and roadkill.

Ferruginous Hawks

Found in grasslands and prairies, Ferruginous hawks feed mostly on ground squirrels, prairie dogs, rabbits, mice, snakes, and large insects. Pairs sometimes cooperate to scare prey into exposing itself.

Sharp-Shinned Hawks

Agile sharp-shins live in dense woodland and mainly eat small songbirds like sparrows, finches, and wrens captured in flight. They occasionally snap up mice, bats, or frogs too.

Cooper’s Hawks

These woodland and urban adaptors consume mostly mid-sized birds up to pigeon size taken alive in mid-air or snatched from trees. Mourning doves and robins are common Cooper’s hawk prey.

Snail Kites

As their name suggests, snail kites have a diet almost exclusively made up of apple snails. Using their specialized curved beak, these tropical raptors extract snails from their shells.


Osprey are unique raptors that eat 99% fish making them excellent anglers. An osprey may eat 3-4 fish daily requiring roughly a pound of food to maintain their body weight.

This shows extensive variation between hawk species in terms of typical prey selection and hunting tactics based on evolved anatomy and accessible food sources.

How Much Do Hawks Eat?

How Much Do Hawks Eat?

Total food intake ranges widely from around 3-5% of a hawk’s body weight per day for average adults. Smaller raptors eat a higher portion of their mass. At peak demand, while nesting, large hawk females may consume up to 1/3 of their weight daily.

For example, a five-pound red-tailed hawk eats about 5-6 ounces or 150 grams each day on average. But in spring when breeding and nesting, she may gorge over 20 ounces per day – over a pound of prey daily!

Nestling eyas (chicks) eat much more relative to their tiny starting weight at 1-2 weeks old. The hawk parents make frequent trips (8-10 times daily) to stuff their perpetually hungry young. A small nest of 3 hawk chicks is ravenously devouring 100+ grams per hour!

Over the annual cycle, wild hawks may capture over 2000 rodents, rabbits, and birds. In slack times the base metabolic rate drops to conserve energy. After feasting, digestion slows allowing nutrition to be absorbed from their savage gorging.

What Do Baby Hawks Eat?

Hawk chicks are called eyas. For the first days after hatching, the eyes eat soft foods like pieces of rodent, fish, frog, or bird flesh brought by their parents. Within a couple of weeks, they gorge everything – bones, fur, and feathers included.

Most hawk nestlings double their hatch weight in under two weeks thanks to their parents delivering sufficient calories and protein. By the fledging age of around 6 weeks, an eyas may weigh 1500% more than their initial hatch weight!

A key job of the adult hawks is tearing prey into bite-size chunks for the youngsters. The hawk parents continue supplementing their fledglings for several weeks after leaving the nest while the juveniles hone their hunting skills through play and observation. Within 2-3 months they should succeed at catching their own prey.

Who Competes with Hawks for Food?

When hunting, hawks compete directly with other meat-eating raptors in the region including eagles, falcons, owls, and vultures, as well as mammalian carnivores like foxes, coyotes, and bobcats. Less often they may steal prey from larger raptors.

Indirect competition comes from animals that share the same prey resources:

Small mammal eaters: Weasels, minks, snakes, house cats

Bird eaters: Crows, jays, opossums, raccoons, rats

During famine times increased competition leads to territorial fighting, kleptoparasitism (stealing kills from one another), or desperate hawks dispersing into marginal habitat.

How Do Hawks Hunt?

Hawks employ a range of hunting techniques depending on weather, terrain, available cover, and type of prey sought. Here are some common methods:

Still-hunting/perching: Sitting concealed on an elevated perch watching over an open area ready to ambush passing prey.

Circling flight: Using soaring circles and flapping dives to scare and exhaust prey flushed into the open. Often used cooperatively in pairs or family groups to drive quarry out of hiding.

Low cruising flight: Contour hunting through woodland and brush-seeking bird and mammal activity while advertising their presence to intimidate prey.

Stooping: Folding wings to enter a steep or plunging dive from a great height to strike prey by surprise. Peregrine falcons are masters of the stoop, hitting over 200 mph!

Wading: Ospreys, kites, harriers, and some eagle species wade through shallow water snatching fish and amphibians.

Coursing: Cruising low over open ground relying on acute eyesight to detect prey movement. Often employed by harriers and hawks living in grasslands, marshes, or savannas.

Pack hunting: Some social hawk species like Harris’s hawk pursue prey cooperatively in family groups – using coordinated roles to scare and channel fleeing prey toward the most aggressive hunters in the pack.

A hawk’s hunting success depends greatly on their stealth, speed, strategic approach, and factor of surprise. Pursuit flights last just seconds for small birds taken in midair and up to half a minute for a prolonged chase after mammals on the ground. Planning the ambush and getaway takes more time than the explosive attack itself.

Do Hawks Have Any Predators?

Do Hawks Have Any Predators?

Healthy adult Hawks are well equipped to fend off predators given their sharp talons, hooked beaks, territorial aggression, and ability to escape into the air.

However, hawk eggs and nestlings are quite vulnerable in their nests to opportunistic predators like raccoons, crows, ravens, snakes, owls, eagles, and even bears. Adult hawks defend against nest predators by adding protective features like thorn barriers and may stand guard nearby when chicks are young.

Larger raptors do sometimes kill smaller hawk species particularly if territorial ranges overlap around a contested resource like quality nesting or hunting habitat. However, cannibalism is relatively rare among hawks and is mostly seen among desperate juveniles.

Perhaps the most dangerous predator that hawks face is humans. Many hawks are maimed or killed outright by human activities like indiscriminate shooting, trapping, pesticide poisoning, collisions with vehicles, illegal pet trade, and destruction of vital habitat leading to dwindling raptor populations.

Do Hawks Eat Snakes

Yes, hawks do eat snakes. As predators, hawks have a varied diet that includes small mammals, birds, reptiles like snakes, and even large insects. Snakes provide a good source of protein for hawks. Smaller snake species are more vulnerable to hawk predation. Larger hawks can even prey on venomous snakes due to their size and hunting abilities. Overall, snakes make up one part of the diverse diet that helps hawks thrive.

Do Hawks Eat Squirrels

Yes, hawks regularly prey on squirrels. As predators, hawks have a varied diet, and tree squirrels like gray squirrels and red squirrels are common targets. Squirrels provide an abundant and nutritious source of food for hawks. Their smaller size makes them vulnerable to attack from raptors. Larger hawks can even take adult squirrels, while smaller hawk species may target young squirrels and nests. Overall, squirrels are a key part of the diet of many hawk species across North America.

Do Hawks Eat Birds?

Yes, hawks frequently prey on other bird species. As predators, hawks have highly adapted hunting skills and eat a diverse range of prey including small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and other birds. Small songbirds and pigeons are common avian prey for hawks. Larger hawk species can even prey on ducks, geese, herons, and young turkeys. Hawks use their keen eyesight, speed, and sharp talons to swiftly capture bird prey while in flight or from perches. Overall, bird predation is an integral part of the diet for most hawks.


In summary, hawks are powerful hunters endowed with great vision, speed, sharp talons, and curved beaks allowing them to catch a variety of small animal prey mainly comprised of rodents, birds, snakes, lizards, fish, and insects. Hawks compete directly with other meat eaters for food resources. Parents supply babyhawks’s daily nutritional needs until they can kill prey independently by around three months. Successful hawks may live 12-20 years in the wild. Learning more about the eating habits of hawks also provides a glimpse into the health of local ecosystems. The versatility found across hawk species ensures falcons continue thriving in diverse habitats around the world.

FAQs About Hawks

What Is Hawks’ Favorite Food?

The most common favorite foods among hawk species are small rodents like mice, voles, and rats which form over half the diet for versatile red-tailed hawks along with snakes and birds. More specialized hawks like ferruginous hawks and burrowing owls favor ground squirrels, prairie dogs or rabbits found in open grasslands. Ospreys almost exclusively eat fish.

What Do Hawks Eat the Most?

Overall as a group, hawks eat small rodents more than any other food source accounting for 50-90% of prey items depending on location and specialty. Mammal meat from mice, voles, rats, rabbits, gophers, prairie dogs, and chipmunks are the dominant hawk foods by volume across most habitat types.

Do Hawks Eat Pigeons?

Yes, absolutely! Rock pigeons are a common food for accipiters like Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks that specialize in catching birds. Larger Buteo hawks like red-tails also prey regularly on mourning doves and common urban pigeons which offer lots of meat for the effort.

What Do Hawks Do?

Hawks are highly skilled aerial predators that hunt and kill other animals for food using their innate speed, vision, talons, and beaks. Hawks help control populations of rodents and small pest bird species. They occupy an important niche helping balance functioning ecosystems as part of natural food webs passing energy from prey to top predators.

Why Are Hawks So Special?

Hawks symbolize independence, power, and living on one’s own terms. Their magnificent mastery of flight inspires awe in most people. Hawks demonstrate impressive adaptations for hunting success including aerial agility, binocular telescopic vision allowing them to spot prey over a mile off, streamlined design with articulate tail and wing control, lightning reflexes, and curved talons plus a sharp hooked beak for killing and tearing flesh. Hawks also exhibit intelligence around nest building, courtship rituals, territorial defense, and migratory habits.

Are Hawks Loyal?

Many hawks demonstrate loyalty and devotion through behaviors like mate fidelity – remaining with the same breeding partner year after year, cooperative family hunting among certain accipiters, as well as strong nest defense and cooperative rearing of offspring until they can survive independently. So while “loyal” may overstate things, many hawks do form loyal-like relationships.

Who Does Hawk Eat?

In nature, hawks prey on a wide variety of small animals including rodents, rabbits, insects, reptiles, amphibians, small birds, crabs, fish, bats, and carrion. Some accipiters have been documented preying on much larger quarry near their own size or even other raptors but this is less common among wild hawks. Some notorious man-eating hawks were likely more myth than fact.

Why Is Hawks A Hero?

In many cultural myths and legends, hawks are portrayed as heroic figures celebrated for their daring exploits, regal independence, cunning, fearlessness, and mastery over adversity and enemies. The hawk archetype in literature spans religious icons like the Egyptian sun god Horus, to iconic superheroes like Marvel’s Hawkeye represented as heroic figures because of their impressive natural traits and predatory skills serving as inspiration.

What Do Mosquito Hawks Eat?

Mosquito hawks, more accurately called crane flies, are a large, long-legged fly species that resembles a giant mosquito but does not actually eat mosquitoes. Adult crane flies feed on flower nectar while their larvae called leatherjackets live underground preying on plant roots. Meanwhile, mosquito hawks known as dragonflies consume vast numbers of actual mosquitoes and other small insects like midges using their quick aerial skills.

Do hawks have White Heads ?

Some hawks have white heads, like Bald Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Short-tailed Hawk .So while not all hawks have white heads, there are several species that are named for and recognized by their distinctive white heads. The white head plumage is unique to certain hawks in the Americas.

What Do Red Tailed Hawks Eat?

As versatile open country and woodland predators, red-tailed hawks dine on a diverse buffet including snakes, lizards, voles, mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, amphibians, small birds, bats, and carrion. Over half of a red-tail’s diet consists of small rodents with additional birds, reptiles and carrion rounding things out based on seasonal availability.

What Do Red Shouldered Hawks Eat?

Dwelling in mixed forests near water, red-shouldered hawks subsist mostly on small mammals like mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits complemented by amphibians, reptiles, small birds, crayfish and insects. Compared to red-tails and other open country hawks, red-shoulders consume a higher proportion of amphibian meat and aquatic prey.

What Do Chicken Hawks Eat?

Chicken hawks, also known as hen hawks, predominantly refer to sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper’s hawks which specialize in catching smaller bird species. Despite their misleading name, wild sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks eat mostly non-chicken birds such as doves, woodpeckers, jays, blackbirds, sparrows, starlings as well as some small mammals and insects mixed in depending on availability.

What Do White Head Hawk Eat?

hawk with white head eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects.

What Do Hawks Like To Eat?

Most hawks are opportunistic predators that capitalize on locally and seasonally abundant prey. Mice, voles, and shrews are hawk favorites when available. Snakes, lizards, frogs, fish, smaller birds, eggs, rabbits, squirrels, and insects also offer nutrition and dietary variety. Prey diversity helps hawks endure seasonal shifts in resources.

So in summary, agile raptors like hawks consume a flexible mix of prey depending on environmental niches and changing habitat conditions with small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, and invertebrates all on the menu!

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.