Hawks are quite the intimidating bird. With hooked, sharp beaks and strong talons, they are a formidable predator, too many. Whether that be birds, rabbits, rodents, or fish. These birds know how to hunt and where to eat. But what about chickens? Do they pose a significant threat to your flock? Will they go out of their way to attack and feed on your chickens? This is what the research says.
So, do hawks eat chickens? Hawks do eat chickens, and do pose a threat to a flock – especially when they are roaming free, are of smaller size, or do not have access to any cover. Hawks are known to hunt and take chickens during the day, being able to kill, carry and eat a chicken away from the scene of the crime.
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And there is quite the population of hawks, depending on where you live, of course.
While it has proved a challenge to find the exact population of these birds, know that there are at least 2,000,000 red tail hawks globally. And this number is rising.
They are also found pretty much everywhere in North America; from as far north as Alaska and Canada to all the way down south to the coasts of Mexico, and in Central America.
Add to the fact that this is just one species.
There are more than 200 species of hawks across the world, with further sub-species among them.
And more specifically, there are over 25 different species in the United States alone.
So, they are certainly about.
And while a number of physical attributes may range, they are predominantly all known for their hunting skills – possessing a strong arsenal used routinely against its prey.
And being able to fly between 150 km/h- 200 km/ h makes them particularly dangerous.
This is not to worry you, just to be aware of the potential threat and to plan accordingly.
So, let us now take a closer look at the hunting behaviors of these birds, and how you could identify a hawk attack if it were to occur.
We will also be looking at whether a hawk would come back for your birds, if they had been previously sighted, and how you can best protect against them.
So, if you have any hawk sightings in your area and keep chickens, or are just wary of them in general, be sure to keep on reading.
You’ll want to know how, exactly, to keep your birds safe!
What Time Of Day Do Hawks Hunt?
Hawks are known for hunting during the day, primarily during the early morning and late evening hours, when there is still light but it is starting to get dark.
This enables them to hunt in a more concealed, and secretive way.
As a species, hawks are diurnal – which essentially means that they are active during the day and not during the night.
There is a range of anecdotes from chicken keepers that report hunting patterns changing depending on the season.
During the summer, there have been more sightings of hawks in the early am to mid-morning, and again in the late afternoon.
In the winter, and cooler, darker days that they are more likely to strike during the day.
Either way, hawks are opportunistic and flexible and will adjust accordingly.
Out of the 25 species of hawks known to reside in North America, it is the Red-Tailed, Red-shouldered, and Coopers hawks that appear to prey on poultry flocks more specifically.
Each of these hawk sub-species has been able to adapt and survive in a range of different habitats, although they are known for being primarily woodland and forest-based birds.
That is of course until they begin gliding over open fields in the search for prey!
How Does A Hawk Kill A Chicken?
Hawks have a very specific approach when it comes to attacking chickens, and their prey in general. Perching nearby, before swooping down and often killing them on impact.
Using their sharp talons, they will commonly carry off a younger or smaller chicken, and look to eat it elsewhere.
Often, there is little evidence that they had attacked altogether.
If the chicken is somewhat larger, or if the hawk desires, they may decide to eat the chicken at the spot of the kill.
They’ll often consume the breast first and foremost, although chickens missing their heads may also have been attacked by an opportunistic hawk who did not proceed any further.
It has also been known for a hawk to scavenge on a pre-existing dead chicken, so there is always the possibility that they were killed by another predator, or cause.
Nevertheless, a big component of hunting for any species of hawk is a planned attack.
One that includes a lot of observation, moving from perch to perch (if possible) before a fast glide and imminent strike.
Remaining undetected and obscure is how these birds like to hunt.
Will A Hawk Keep Coming Back For Chickens?
Hawks have been known to keep coming back for chickens, if they have been successful in a previous hunt, or if there is an incentive for them to do so.
Hawks are known for their innovative feeding patterns and are known for being one of the most intelligent bird species.
Beyond this, they have very good eyesight and a hunting style that lets them go mostly undetected.
Again, there are plenty of reports from chicken keepers who have sighted the same hawk several times; trying to figure out a means of attack or way to get into their chicken run/coop.
In reality, if you have any hawks that reside in your area, or if your property encroaches on the territory of one of these birds, then chances are they will routinely return.
It ultimately comes down to their own assessment and whether or not they believe they will be safe and successful in any future hunt.
How Do I Protect My Chickens From Hawks?
Protecting your chickens from hawks will involve a combination of security measures along with ensuring you are not attracting hawks to your property, to begin with.
Of course, an attack from a bird of prey is an aerial threat and one that is hard to predict- so you will need to plan accordingly.
It may take some closer inspection of your property and of the local area to identify your vulnerabilities and how a hawk may operate.
Nevertheless and first and foremost, it’s important to note here that hawks and many other birds of prey (such as eagles) are protected by federal law.
So, you cannot legally shoot, trap, or kill these birds. If you are caught, you will be prosecuted.
Now that is out of the way, let us look at some of the things you can do. And that is particularly effective against this predator.
Remove Any Perch Sites
Hawks are very cunning in their hunting, and always plan their attack.
Part of their hunting process is perching on branches and other surfaces and staying undetected.
So, it naturally follows that you remove any such opportunity, at least in areas close to your flock or your coop.
This could require cutting down trees, removing branches, or just generally adapting your property to reduce opportunities for hawks and other birds of prey to land and scan.
Another useful approach is to ensure that your run is covered.
Whether this means you need to purchase a new and covered run or at the very least construct the cover yourself.
Either way, it is important to prevent any birds of prey, such as hawks, from being able to swoop down on your birds.
Orange netting is a great material to use, as birds of prey will be able to see this and it may prevent them from attempting altogether.
Otherwise, consider galvanized hardware cloth, with small holes (around 1/2 an inch) to prevent any talons from piercing through.
Keep Your Flock Cooped
One of the best things you can do for the health of your flock is to let them free-range and forage.
But this can have the opposite effect if your flock is vulnerable to attack and the victims of a predator.
Chickens in the open pasture are a target for a fast and elusive hawk – who can quickly strike.
So, an alternative is to connect a covered run to your coop. This way, your birds can still range and forage.
Although their range is limited, it is a much safer more reassuring approach.
Better yet would be a moveable run, otherwise known as a tractor, that you can routinely move around.
This way, you can keep the land fresh, change the environment for your birds while also keeping them safe.
Hawks are intelligent and will plan their attack ahead of time – looking for particular vulnerabilities and opportune moments.
With chickens, they know that they are an easier target when their heads are down and they are eating, especially together as a group.
So, you may want to move your feeders inside if you have not already.
Or, you can construct a covered feeding area for your birds; one that they can also take cover in whether that be from birds of prey, or even the sunshine itself.
Consider A Rooster
You may have one already, or you may not be open to the idea altogether, but a rooster can be a great way to add protection to a flock of hens.
They instinctively want to protect, and will even alert your hens to a potential threat before it unfolds through a high-pitched cry.
This can give your flock the time they need to take cover. And it can also be enough to cause a hawk to lose interest and seek food elsewhere.
Consider A Guard Dog
You’ll need to be careful of the breed, but another approach is getting a guard dog to protect your flock.
They will need to be trained of course, but some of the larger, more docile breeds are a terrific deterrent against hawks.
Great Pyrenees have been commonly used due to their intimating size yet loving temperament (with their owners that is).
The presence of a dog can go a long way to keeping your birds safe from all kinds of predators if you are willing and able to take care of one that is.
Hang Shiny Objects
Objects that reflect the light of the sun are also known to deter hawks and other birds of prey.
So, you can look to hang an old CD or DVD on trees, objects, and in different positions around the run.
A brand called Nite Guard sells a very effective tape that you can pick up for a great price over at Amazon.
It essentially provides a combination of light (bright flash), movement, and noise (crackle sounding) which works very well for scaring hawks and other birds away.
And as there is no detectable cause, it works time and time again.
Definitely worth considering at the very least.
Large deterrents, like a scarecrow, will initially prevent a hawk from coming too close. However, these intelligent birds of prey will soon learn that they are a decoy if they are not moved around and re-positioned regularly.
In time, they will cease to be effective.
So, you will need to be more mindful of any visual deterrents you use and how you use them.
Owls are a common rival to hawks, and when food is most scarce, they will likely turn on one another. Otherwise, they will try to keep their distance.
So, you can consider getting an Owl decoy, like this bestseller on Amazon.
Just be sure to move it around from time to time!
Different Noises, Often
This is a much more hands-on approach, but an effective one nonetheless.
You can use a variety of different, loud noises to scare hawks and other birds of prey away.
This could be music, it could be from an instrument, or even the noise that comes from the TV or a movie!
Just consider that hawks will get used to the same noises in time, so you will need to keep changing it.
Hawks do eat chickens, unfortunately.
And they are a real and significant threat to your flock.
But thankfully, there is a range of different measures and precautions you can put in place to protect your birds.
The key thing to remember here is to be mindful and cognizant of any hawks that are in your area.
As a protected species, there is nothing you can do to physically detain or kill them. But, you can do a lot of things to keep them away altogether.
One of the best things you can do is contact your local authorities. Find out about any local populations, and seek their advice.
Besides, they’ll know the area best.
Wondering what other animals and predators pose a threat to your flock?… My guide below will be of interest:
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.