What Do Hawks Eat? | Hawk Diet

Dan Washmuth, Kristin Pia Hayman, Christianlly Cena
  • Author
    Dan Washmuth

    Dan has taught college Nutrition and Anatomy courses for several years. He has a B.S. in Exercise Physiology from Furman University and a M.S. in Dietetics & Nutrition from Florida International University. He is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C)

  • Instructor
    Kristin Pia Hayman

    Kristin taught for over 10 years in the elementary classroom. She holds a B.A. in Journalism as well as a Master's Degree in Elementary Education.

  • Expert Contributor
    Christianlly Cena

    Christianlly has taught college Physics, Natural science, Earth science, and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is currently pursuing his doctorate degree.

What do hawks eat? As natural predators, hawks hunt to survive and eat a variety of different animals. Learn more about a hawk's diet and hunting practices. Updated: 03/29/2021

What Do Hawks Eat?

Hawks are birds of prey, which means they are carnivorous birds. Carnivorous means they only eat animals and no plants. Birds of prey (also known as ''raptors'') have sharp talons and beaks that help them catch their prey. Hawks must hunt their food in order to survive. There are many different animals that are part of a hawk diet. Hawks most commonly eat small mammals, such as rabbits, squirrels, gophers, prairie dogs, mice, and chipmunks. Other examples of what hawks eat include:

  • Insects: dragonflies, crickets, grasshoppers, moths, and insect larvae
  • Fish, reptiles and amphibians: lizards, turtles, frogs, crabs, crawfish, koi

Surprisingly, many types of hawks will eat other birds, including hummingbirds, quail, waterfowl, robins, jays, and doves. Birds that feed on other birds are known as accipiters.

Do Hawks Eat Snakes?

Many people wonder, ''Do hawks eat snakes?'' The answer to this question is YES, hawks do eat snakes! Hawks eat many different types of snakes, including garter snakes and black rat snakes. Surprisingly, hawks even eat poisoning snakes, such as rattlesnakes and cottonmouth snakes. Sometimes, when hawks try to eat these poisonous snakes, these snakes will bite and kill the hawks instead.

Birds of Prey

Hawks are birds, so they eat seeds and fruit, right? Wrong! Hawks may be birds, but they have quite an appetite. Believe it or not, the main part of a hawk's diet is made up of meat from other animals.

A hawk is part of a special group called birds of prey, also known as raptors. Birds in this group hunt other animals for food. Birds of prey are carnivores, which means that they only eat meat. No vegetables or plants for these guys!

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  • 0:30 A Healthy Diet
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Hawks most commonly eat small mammals, such as squirrels.
squirrel

How Often Do Hawks Eat?

Most hawks eat every single day. In fact, some hawks (such as the Cooper's hawk) eat up to 12% of their body weight in food. If a 100-pound kid ate the same percentage as a hawk, they would have to eat 12 pounds of food each day. That means a kid would have to eat over 5 entire large pizzas by themself each day to eat the same as a hawk. That's a lot of food!

Most hawks hunt by perching on tall tree branches and looking for their prey. Hawks have excellent eyesight, and they can spot their prey from very far away. While they wait for their prey, hawks will stay very quiet and very still. Once they see their prey, hawks will swoop down and grab the prey with their sharp talons.

Hawks are very quiet while they fly so they don't scare away their prey. They are also very fast flyers, and can reach speeds of nearly 120 miles per hour when they are diving down to catch their prey. Hawks are very strong, and they can carry animals that are three times larger than their own body. Once they grab their prey, hawks will fly back to a tree branch to feed on it with their sharp, pointed beaks.

Hawks usually hunt by flying down and grabbing their prey with their sharp talons.
Hawk flying for prey

Did you know that hawks often practice their hunting skills with corn or pine cones? Hawks have been known to fly down and grab a corn cob with their talons, just like they would grab a small mammal or other type of prey. Hawks will also sometimes drop the corn while they are flying and then swoop down and catch the corn before it hits the ground. Many people believe hawks play with corn to practice their hunting skills.

Hawks will also feed on animals that are already dead. For example, hawks will sometimes feed on the remains of a dead mammal that was killed by another predator. Hawks will even feed on roadkill!

What Does a Baby Hawk Eat?

Baby hawks usually eat insects, small rodents, small reptiles such as lizards that are found on the ground. Since baby hawks cannot fly very well, they will hunt by running or hopping on the ground towards their prey.

Hawks are birds of prey.
hawk

A Healthy Diet

A hawk will eat just about anything. Their most common food is small mammals, such as mice, rats, rabbits, voles, and squirrels. But they don't stop there. Hawks also feast on snakes, lizards, frogs, insects, and many more.

Still hungry? These birds also eat other birds! Small birds like doves, starlings, and blackbirds better watch out if they see a hawk nearby.

Hawks are pretty strong, so they can hunt for animals weighing less than an ounce, to those weighing more than five pounds. However, hawks have also been seen carrying away larger animals, like baby sheep and foxes!

But not all of the hawk's food is caught alive. They aren't afraid to eat animals killed by something else. Although it sounds gruesome to think about, hawks eating adorable little animals, this is all a part of nature. Hawks hunt to survive, and they are a large part of the food chain.

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Video Transcript

Birds of Prey

Hawks are birds, so they eat seeds and fruit, right? Wrong! Hawks may be birds, but they have quite an appetite. Believe it or not, the main part of a hawk's diet is made up of meat from other animals.

A hawk is part of a special group called birds of prey, also known as raptors. Birds in this group hunt other animals for food. Birds of prey are carnivores, which means that they only eat meat. No vegetables or plants for these guys!

Hawks are birds of prey.
hawk

A Healthy Diet

A hawk will eat just about anything. Their most common food is small mammals, such as mice, rats, rabbits, voles, and squirrels. But they don't stop there. Hawks also feast on snakes, lizards, frogs, insects, and many more.

Still hungry? These birds also eat other birds! Small birds like doves, starlings, and blackbirds better watch out if they see a hawk nearby.

Hawks are pretty strong, so they can hunt for animals weighing less than an ounce, to those weighing more than five pounds. However, hawks have also been seen carrying away larger animals, like baby sheep and foxes!

But not all of the hawk's food is caught alive. They aren't afraid to eat animals killed by something else. Although it sounds gruesome to think about, hawks eating adorable little animals, this is all a part of nature. Hawks hunt to survive, and they are a large part of the food chain.

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Additional Activities

What do Hawks Eat?: Discussion Questions

In this activity, you'll check your knowledge regarding the diet and hunting practices of hawks.

Directions

For this activity, print or copy this page on a blank piece of paper. Then, carefully read the given narrative and provide a written response to the questions that follow. You may use the web to search for ideas in answering the questions.

Hawk-Eyed

Hawks are birds of prey that are widely distributed and vary greatly in size. The smallest of the species, the sharp-shinned hawk, only grows to about 9-12 inches long and weighs 3-4 ounces. In contrast, the ferruginous hawk is the largest member of the species. Its length is about 20-27 inches and weighs more than 80 ounces. All hawks are notable for having four types of color receptors in the eye. These give hawks the ability to perceive not only the visible range but also ultraviolet light. Their eyesight is one of the sharpest among all animals, and some hawks can spot prey as small as a bunny from more than a mile away. Their broad wings enable them to ambush their prey and glide through the air at high speeds.

Questions

  1. How do you classify a hawk based on its diet?
  2. Are there species of hawks that consume fruits and seeds?
  3. What feature allows a hawk to spot targets from afar?
  4. Describe how hawks hunt and kill their prey.


Sample Answers

  1. Hawks are classified as carnivores. These are animals that have adapted to consume other animals.
  2. No. All hawks are carnivores and strictly eat smaller animals, including snakes, lizards, frogs, insects. They also prey on smaller birds, such as doves, starlings, and blackbirds.
  3. Hawks can spot prey from miles away thanks to their eyes, which provide them with remarkable vision.
  4. Once they spot their prey, a hawk would then ambush and hold the target with their sharp talons.

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