Do Red-Tailed Hawks Eat Birds?

With their majestic profiles and piercing cries, red-tailed hawks capture our imagination as they soar over fields and perch on power lines. But does the red-tail’s reputation as a fierce raptor mean smaller backyard birds are at risk whenever hawks are around?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, red-tailed hawks do prey on other birds, including small songbirds, waterfowl and gamebirds, however this does not make up the majority of their diverse diet.

In this detailed article, we’ll explore the red-tailed hawk’s feeding habits, typical avian prey, hunting strategies, how to protect backyard birds, and some fascinating facts about these aerial hunters.

Overview of the Red-Tailed Hawk Diet

The diet of the majestic Red-Tailed Hawk is diverse and varied, allowing it to thrive in a range of habitats across North America. While these birds of prey are known for their impressive hunting skills, they do not exclusively feed on birds.

Instead, their diet consists of a wide variety of prey, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and other birds.

Hunts mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and other birds

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a highly skilled hunter that utilizes its sharp talons and keen eyesight to capture a range of prey. While it does occasionally prey on other birds, it also hunts a variety of other animals.

This includes small mammals like rabbits, squirrels, and mice, as well as reptiles like snakes and lizards. Additionally, amphibians such as frogs and toads can also be on the menu for these versatile raptors.

Favors small rodents as primary prey

Although the Red-Tailed Hawk has a diverse diet, it does have a preference for small rodents as its primary prey. These birds are known to have a particular fondness for mice and voles, which are abundant in many natural habitats.

This preference for small mammals is likely due to their high availability and nutritional value, making them an ideal food source for the Red-Tailed Hawk.

An opportunistic and adaptable hunter

The Red-Tailed Hawk is an opportunistic hunter, meaning it takes advantage of any available food sources in its environment. This adaptability allows the hawk to thrive in a variety of habitats, from forests and grasslands to urban areas.

While it may primarily target small mammals, it will also take advantage of other opportunities, such as scavenging carrion or catching small birds when they are readily available.

Bird Species Commonly Hunted

Red-tailed hawks are formidable hunters known for their ability to capture a wide variety of prey. While they primarily feed on small mammals such as rodents, they are also known to target birds as a food source.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the bird species commonly hunted by these majestic raptors.

Doves, pigeons, woodpeckers, and jays

Red-tailed hawks have been observed preying on several bird species, including doves, pigeons, woodpeckers, and jays. These birds are often found in open habitats, making them easily visible to the keen eyes of a hunting red-tailed hawk.

With their sharp talons and powerful beaks, these hawks can swiftly capture and dispatch their avian prey.

Waterfowl like ducks and geese

Red-tailed hawks are opportunistic hunters and will not pass up the chance to target larger birds like waterfowl. Ducks and geese, which are commonly found near bodies of water, can become easy targets for red-tailed hawks.

These hawks will often swoop down from above and use their speed and agility to surprise and capture their unsuspecting prey.

Gamebirds including pheasants and quail

Gamebirds such as pheasants and quail are also on the menu for red-tailed hawks. These birds are often found in grasslands and agricultural areas, providing ample hunting grounds for the hawks. With their sharp eyesight and impressive aerial abilities, red-tailed hawks can spot and pursue these gamebirds with precision and skill.

It is important to note that while red-tailed hawks do hunt birds, they also have a diverse diet that includes small mammals, reptiles, and even carrion. They are adaptable predators that can thrive in a variety of environments, from forests to deserts.

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Hunting Strategies for Avian Prey

Red-tailed hawks are formidable predators known for their hunting prowess. When it comes to catching birds, they employ a variety of strategies that showcase their agility and adaptability. Let’s explore some of the hunting techniques used by these majestic raptors.

Swift stooping from great heights

One of the most impressive hunting strategies employed by red-tailed hawks is their ability to swiftly stoop from great heights. These birds of prey have keen eyesight, allowing them to spot potential prey from high above.

Once they have identified a target, they fold their wings and dive towards it at astonishing speeds, reaching velocities of up to 120 miles per hour. This sudden and powerful descent catches their unsuspecting avian prey off guard, making it difficult for them to escape.

Surprise attacks from concealed perches

Red-tailed hawks are masters of surprise attacks. They often perch on trees or other elevated structures, patiently waiting for the perfect moment to strike. With their excellent camouflage and stealthy movements, they blend seamlessly into their surroundings, making it almost impossible for their avian prey to detect their presence.

When the opportunity arises, they launch themselves from their concealed perches, catching their prey off guard and ensuring a successful hunt.

Pursuit flight through dense vegetation

While red-tailed hawks are known for their aerial acrobatics, they are also skilled at navigating through dense vegetation in pursuit of their avian prey. They have the ability to maneuver quickly and effortlessly through trees and shrubs, using their sharp talons and strong wings to navigate the challenging terrain.

This hunting strategy allows them to surprise their prey in their natural habitats, increasing their chances of a successful hunt.

It is important to note that while red-tailed hawks do eat birds, they also have a diverse diet that includes small mammals, reptiles, and even carrion. Their hunting strategies for avian prey highlight their adaptability and resourcefulness in obtaining food in various environments.

Protecting Backyard Birds from Hawks

Red-tailed hawks are magnificent birds of prey that can be found across North America. While they primarily feed on small mammals like mice and rabbits, they have been known to eat birds as well. If you are a bird enthusiast and want to protect your backyard birds from hawks, here are some tips to consider:

Bird feeders and baths away from cover

One way to deter hawks from preying on your backyard birds is to strategically place your bird feeders and baths away from areas of dense cover. Hawks prefer to hunt in areas where they can easily hide and ambush their prey.

By keeping your feeders and baths in open areas, you reduce the chances of hawks swooping in unnoticed. This gives your birds a fighting chance to escape.

Thorny shrubs and plants around feeders

Another effective way to protect your birds is to plant thorny shrubs and plants around your feeders. Hawks are less likely to attempt a hunt if they risk getting injured by thorns. Roses, holly bushes, and barberry shrubs are all excellent options to consider.

Not only do they provide protection for your birds, but they also add beauty and variety to your backyard.

Routine clean-up to avoid luring rodents

Hawks are opportunistic hunters and will prey on rodents if given the chance. To prevent hawks from being attracted to your backyard, it’s important to maintain good hygiene by regularly cleaning up spilled birdseed and keeping your yard free from debris.

Removing potential food sources for rodents will decrease the likelihood of attracting hawks.

By implementing these measures, you can create a safer environment for your backyard birds. However, it’s important to remember that hawks are a natural part of the ecosystem and play a vital role in maintaining balance.

It’s important to strike a balance between protecting your birds and respecting the natural order of things.

Amazing Facts About Red-Tailed Hawks

They can dive at speeds up to 120 mph

Red-tailed hawks are known for their impressive hunting skills. One of the most amazing facts about these birds is their ability to dive at speeds up to 120 mph. This incredible speed allows them to quickly swoop down on their prey, which primarily consists of small mammals and birds.

Imagine witnessing a red-tailed hawk gracefully soaring through the sky, then suddenly diving at lightning speed to catch its next meal. It’s truly a sight to behold!

Nest towers up to 70 feet tall

When it comes to nesting, red-tailed hawks don’t settle for anything less than impressive. These birds build their nests, known as eyries, in tall trees or on cliffs. What’s fascinating is that their nests can reach heights of up to 70 feet!

These towering structures provide a safe and secure place for the hawks to raise their young. It’s no wonder that they choose such lofty locations, as it offers them a vantage point to keep an eye on their surroundings and protect their offspring.

Live up to 21 years in the wild

Red-tailed hawks are known for their longevity. In the wild, these majestic birds can live up to 21 years, although the average lifespan is around 10-15 years. Their long lifespan is attributed to their adaptability, strong hunting skills, and ability to find suitable habitats.

It’s truly remarkable to think that these birds can thrive for over two decades in the wild, facing the challenges of predator-prey dynamics, environmental changes, and other factors that can impact their survival.


In summary, while red-tailed hawks are accomplished bird hunters, they play an important role in balancing ecosystems. With proper precautions, we can appreciate these spectacular raptors while still protecting backyard bird life.

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