How Much Can A Hawk Carry?

You may have heard stories of hawks lifting and carrying off full grown dogs and other prey as large as themselves. But are these stories true? How much can a hawk carry, and are they able to kill prey that is too heavy for them? Keep reading to find out more!

How Much Weight Can a Hawk Pick Up?

how much weight can a hawk pick up

Hawks are strong, powerful birds of prey that survive by hunting and eating other animals. With this in mind, you may think that hawks are incredibly strong, able to lift and carry large amounts of weight through the air.

The truth is, hawks are somewhat limited by their own weight, as they can’t pick up and carry anything that’s heavier than them. Most hawks only weigh 1 to 2 pounds, so they will not be able to pick up more than this weight.

The exception might be the red-tailed hawk, a large species of hawk which weighs up to 3 pounds.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the red-tailed hawk may be able to lift prey weighing as much as 5 pounds. 

Even with the ability to lift this much, the red-tailed hawk rarely will. Picking up so much weight requires a lot of energy, so in many cases, hawks will stick to carrying much smaller prey and lighter nest-building items

How Big of an Animal Can a Hawk Pick Up?

Hawks typically prey on small animals such as songbirds, rabbits, lizards, snakes, mice, rats, and insects. They cannot lift any animal weighing more than their own weight, or in the case of the red-tailed hawk, any animal that weighs more than 5 pounds.

Larger hawks such as the red-tailed hawk and Cooper’s hawk may occasionally prey on poultry such as chickens and small turkeys, and on rare occasions may even target small puppies and kittens.

These cases are rare, however, and usually happen only due to food shortages. Hawks are opportunistic feeders, so they will take what they can get; but most hawks will not want to bother with larger, heavier animals as long as there are smaller ones to be found.

Can a Hawk Pick Up a 12-Pound Dog?

You may have heard wild tales of hawks swooping down and carrying off fully grown dogs from right under the watchful care of their owners. These rumors suggest that hawks can lift up to twelve pounds, easily stealing fully grown small dogs and cats as well as other larger creatures.

The good news is that these are only rumors. As noted above, hawks generally cannot lift more than their weight and they only weigh up to three pounds, so no hawk is strong enough to lift and carry a twelve pound animal, dog or otherwise.

That said, hawks can attack and kill larger prey on the ground. There have been plenty of documented instances of hawks killing small dogs, raccoons, and other slightly larger animals, dragging them a short distance, and eating them on the ground without ever having to lift or carry them.

Again, though, these cases are rare, and the hawk in question would have to be especially large and powerful to pull off such a feat with your family pet.

Check out this video of a red-tailed hawk attempting to carry off a 2-pound yorkie. The video will give you an idea of the struggle even large hawks may have attempting to hunt larger prey.

How Big of a Cat Can a Hawk Pick Up?

Cats, of course, are generally smaller than dogs, so are they more at risk of becoming hawk prey?

Hawks are more likely to attack unattended kittens than full grown cats. However, even fully grown cats may be attacked if they are fairly small and lightweight.

Again, hawks are unlikely to carry off prey that weighs more than 5 pounds, and most adult cats weigh more than this. That said, hawks are fully capable of attacking cats, dragging and crushing them, and eating them on the ground as they would any other large prey that is too heavy for them to carry.

If you have kittens and there are hawks in your area, don’t leave them alone outside. It may even be best to bring fully grown cats inside if you can’t watch them, especially if you’ve witnessed hawks stalking your cats or other cats in the area.

Can a Hawk Lift a Full-Grown Chicken?

Hawks have a reputation for being chicken killers. The Cooper’s hawk is the primary species responsible for this reputation, but other large hawks will occasionally hunt chickens as well.

Most adult chickens weigh between 3 and 6 pounds, so most of the time, hawks will leave them alone. But of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. 

Hawks may attack small chickens that get separated from the group, but they are much more likely to target baby chicks that they can swoop down on, grab, and fly off with.

Again, as with any other large prey, hawks may attack, kill, and eat a chicken on the ground without ever attempting to lift and carry it. In this sense, chickens make relatively easy targets because the other chickens in a group will scatter and the chicken being attacked is much weaker than the attacking hawk, so it won’t be able to put up much of a fight.

If you have chickens and you know there are hawks living in the area, keep your chickens in a protected coop or chicken run, and do not leave them unattended if they are wandering loose.


Hawks can carry up to their own body weight, but no more. The exception is the red-tailed hawk, a hawk that weighs 2 to 3 pounds and may occasionally carry up to 5 pounds.

Hawks usually stick to hunting small prey such as mice, lizards, and songbirds. But if you have kittens, small puppies, or chickens, you may want to take steps to protect them so they don’t become the neighborhood hawk’s next meal.

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