With their broad wingspan and impressive soaring abilities, hawks are truly fascinating birds of prey. But what types of animal do they prey on, exactly? What does a hawk eat, what is its favorite food, and what are some of the largest animals it will prey on? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more!
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What Foods Do Hawks Eat?
Hawks eat many different kinds of food. They are opportunistic carnivores, which means they will eat whatever is available and are not very picky.
Of course, the foods that are most available can vary from region to region, and hawks may have slightly different food preferences depending on their species.
Some common hawk food groups include:
Animals such as mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, and bats make up some of the most popular foods among hawks. These animals are generally widespread and plentiful, so many different species of hawk depend on them as a primary food source.
Hawks living in desert regions frequently eat lizards, snakes, and other small reptiles. Most reptiles are small and don’t provide a lot of meat, but again, hawks tend to take whatever they can get when they are hungry.
Frogs, toads, and salamanders make tasty treats for hawks living in wooded wetland regions.
Many hawks eat small and medium sized birds such as jays, cuckoos, and finches. Hawks living in urban areas may pick off these birds at bird feeders, while in the wild they frequently capture them in midair and snag them from the ground or tree branches where they’re perched.
Though most hawks prefer larger, meatier prey, some depend on insects to make up the majority of their diet. Nearly all hawks will turn to eating insects to supplement their diet or if there is no better food to be found.
What is a Hawk’s Favorite Food?
As noted above, hawks eat many different kinds of food. The foods they prefer most depend largely on their species and what’s available in their region.
For example, Cooper’s hawks generally prefer birds–usually songbirds, though they have a reputation for going after chickens as well. According to Audubon, they will also eat small mammals, reptiles, and insects, but the Cooper’s hawk’s favorite food is definitely birds.
On the other hand, northern goshawks prefer small to medium sized mammals such as squirrels and rabbits. They will also eat other animals, but the majority of their diet is made up of mammals.
Red-tailed hawks prefer mice and rats but will eat many other types of mammals as well. They eat birds and other animals far more rarely.
The broad-winged hawk, contrary to most other hawks, feeds primarily on insects. They will also eat frogs, lizards, mice, and other small animals to supplement their insect diet.
Again, nearly all hawks are opportunistic feeders, and they rarely will pass up anything that they consider an easy meal.
Do Hawks Eat Cats?
Most hawks prefer small prey they can pick up and carry, but they have been known to attack and kill larger animals on the ground.
Some of the larger hawk species, such as the red-tailed hawk and northern goshawk, have been known to attack cats in this way. Once they have killed the cat, they may drag it a short distance before ripping it apart and eating it.
Usually, the hawk will have to kill and eat the cat on the ground, as described above, without carrying it off to a safer location. This leaves the hawk exposed and vulnerable, a scenario which most hawks try to avoid.
What’s more, attacking a cat presents an extra challenge for the hawk because the cat is large and heavy, and it usually puts up a fight, making it difficult to kill.
Unattended kittens are much easier prey, and they are more at risk of hawk attacks than adult cats are.
What Big Animals Do Hawks Eat?
Though hawks are opportunistic feeders, they generally stick to smaller prey because they cannot carry too much weight. As noted above, they can certainly kill larger, heavier prey, but being unable to fly off with the kill leaves them vulnerable.
Hawks may attack larger animals on the ground if they are starving and desperate during food shortages. Some of the larger animals they may eat include:
- Cats and kittens: As discussed in the previous section, cats and kittens are not a hawk’s preferred food choice, but hawks do occasionally kill and eat them. Kittens are especially at risk when they are still small enough for the hawk to lift and carry off.
- Small dogs and puppies: Some of the largest hawks in the world have been known to hunt dogs. They are generally restricted to the smallest dogs such as yorkies and chihuahuas, but they may also attack small puppies of other breeds.
- Chickens: The Cooper’s hawk is a well-known chicken killer, but other hawks may occasionally hunt chickens as well. Most chickens are too heavy for them to carry off, so they usually target small hens and chicks the most.
- Hares and jackrabbits: Some rabbits are larger than others. Though hawks typically target the smaller species, they sometimes hunt the larger ones as well.
- Snakes: Like rabbits, snakes come in many different sizes. The largest, most powerful hawks can lift up to 5 pounds, so as long as they are able to grab it and carry it off, they will hunt any snake falling within this size range.
- Large birds such as cuckoos and crows: Though hawks typically avoid other birds of prey, they will take on just about any bird their own size or smaller.
Check out this video of a family of Harris hawks hunting a large jackrabbit.
Hawks, like most predators, eat a wide variety of animals as food. They are opportunistic feeders that will eat many different types of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and insects.