Why Is There a Hawk in My Yard

Why Is There a Hawk in My Yard? Neighborly Bird of Prey

Various species of Hawks are becoming increasingly familiar in suburban and urban areas. This increase in sightings is most noticeable in the winter months when breeding and nesting locations are no longer a priority. In winter there is also less cover offered by tree leaves, which leaves birds more exposed, hence the number of sightings increases. So you might be asking yourself “why is there a hawk in my yard?”

The short answer as to why there may be a hawk in your yard is because your yard provides shelter and access to food for hawks. Natural prey for hawks, such as small birds, vermin, and snakes may also live in your yard.

The fact remains, however, that it is not only sightings that are increasing, but also the physical number of birds in these areas, that is on the rise. The main factor attributed to the rise in urban and suburban hawk populations is the amount of food that is available. 

Many people hang or install bird feeders or bird tables in their yards, to draw songbirds and other species to their gardens in winter. This trend is so popular that many species of birds have expanded their home range, due to the ability to survive colder winter climates than they were previously unable to. 

Some species are so successful at exploiting our humanity that some birds, such as the Red Cardinal, have expanded their home range so that it now covers most of the U.S. Due to human intervention and feeding, Red Cardinals can now sustain a population many times larger than their original number.

Do Bird Feeders Attract Hawks?

Large Ferruginous Hawk in attack mode with blue sky

While you may only put nuts and seeds in your bird feeder, these feeders draw songbirds and other small avians which are a favorite prey of the agile flying, Sharp Shinned Hawk. Cooper’s Hawks and Northern Goshawks are also capable and willing to take birds on the wing, for their prey.

The increase in the number of prey birds in new areas means there is more prey available. As is natural, when there is more prey available, the hunters of that prey also become more numerous. Falcons have also begun taking advantage of the most urbanized areas of all and can be found nesting on the tallest buildings in city centers, hunting the pigeons that are almost obligatory in cities these days.

Most Hawks hunt ground-dwelling prey, and there are a certain number of ground dwellers that also benefit from a bird feeder. Squirrels are the most obvious of these bird feeder beneficiaries. Navigating mazes and displaying impressive problem-solving ability, gray squirrels are often regarded as a pest by bird enthusiasts trying to welcome avian visitors. 

Author Note: Bird tables are often a focal point in a garden and as such, there is a tendency to make them ornate and decorative, well suited to the colorful birds that eat there. These cute and fun feeders are easy pickings for hungry squirrels who carefully pick out only their favorite morsels. 

Hawks are Attracted to Squirrels

Another reason why there may be a hawk in your yard is due to squirrels. The rest of the seed the squirrels scatter across the lawn to ensure generations of weeds sprout through your manicured grass year after year! There are ‘squirrel-proof’ feeders available, but the mechanisms that keep the squirrels out are often unsightly and considered an unwelcome eyesore by most gardeners. 

If you have a feeder in your yard that is the common target of a squirrel, you might be wondering, when is he going to start his hibernation? Sadly the answer may be never! In the winter months, gray squirrels are much less active, leading to the common misconception that they are hibernating animals, which they are not. Ground squirrels, however, do hibernate, but they are less likely.

If you thought of the squirrels as pests, you are really going to dislike the next member of the bird feeder benefiters – Rats. Rats show an ability to thrive in urban and suburban areas like no other animal, bar humans and their pets. A large rat population is actually a great invitation, showing many species of raptor, that these noisy, humanity dominated, locations are actually teeming with opportunity.

There are many other small mammals and rodents that will benefit from dropped seeds and crumbs from the feeder. A healthy population of Chipmunks, Mice and Voles will aid in the likelihood of these prey animals attracting Hawks, Owls and other birds of prey to an area. 

What Species of Hawk are You Likely to See in Your Yard?

The Hawks that we are starting to see more and more often are the Sharp Shinned and Cooper’s hawks. These two species are very similar, both primarily eat perching birds, but they can also take their prey on the wing. 

The similarities only start there, Sharp Shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are frequently mixed up, even by experienced birders. Cooper’s Hawks can be as much as twice the size of Sharp Shinned Hawks. You may think it should be easy to tell from that, but the fact is you rarely see them at the same time, and getting proper perspective can be tricky, especially if the bird is in flight.  

The Northern Goshawk has also been confused with the Cooper’s Hawk, though not nearly as often, due to similar banded patterns on the breast and a dark cap. The Goshawk is a much more shy bird and is not as common in urban areas. 

Northern Goshawks are another of the few species of Hawk that will take other birds on the wing. Considering this, it is possible that their numbers may have increased slightly in suburban areas, though not nearly as sharply as the population boom of the Sharp Shinned and Cooper’s Hawks.

Interestingly only some Northern Goshawks are migratory, the northernmost fly south to escape the harshest of the winter conditions. Monogamous and paired for life, Northern Goshawk couples return to their nesting grounds in late winter, rather than early spring.

The Hawk’s Diet

Ferruginous hawk

Generally, Hawks prefer a diet of ground-dwelling animals to prey on, but a Sharp Shinned Hawk’s diet consists of up to 90% other birds. Sharp Shinned Hawks are strong and agile fliers, and they play to their strengths. They usually target perching birds, but they are capable of chasing down and taking their prey on the wing too.

Author Note: These small raptors also eat small mammals, lizards, and insects too. Sharp Shinned Hawks are the smallest Hawks in the U.S, growing to a maximum of 8oz with a wingspan of just over 2 feet.

Cooper’s Hawks

Cooper’s Hawks also dine on birds, but not as consistently as their Sharp Shinned cousins. They are also strong and agile fliers that can take prey on the wing. These blurred, high-speed pursuits can add to the cases of mistaken identity.

Cooper’s Hawks may also hunt domestic birds and small pets. It’s not common, but small or young chickens can be taken by Sharp Shinned Hawks, even small cats or puppies could fall foul of a large Cooper’s Hawk. Cooper’s Hawks weigh in at over double their smaller cousins, reaching a max of 24oz. Their wingspan isn’t double the sharpies though, reaching a max of about 3 feet.

Goshawks

Northern Goshawks are also cousins of Sharp Shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, though they are rarely found near urban areas, preferring the peace offered by large expanses of natural forest. Northern Goshawks are also capable of catching their prey on the wing and taking birds as large as geese – which is how they came by their old English name Goose Hawk.

Goshawks are more likely to hunt ground-dwelling game such as Hares, Rabbits, and Squirrels. So if you have the rare occasion to spot one in or near your yard, you could just feel blessed by the symbolism that comes from seeing a hawk in your yard. However, if you have cats or dogs, you may want to keep them inside. 

At a max of 50oz, Goshawks weigh over double that of the svelte Cooper’s Hawk. The Goshawks wingspan can be in excess of 4 feet, which puts cats and small dogs in their perfect prey size range. As mentioned, these larger predators are far less likely to be found around your suburban yard than the smaller Sharp Shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. 

Northern Goshawks have much more pronounced differences than the Sharpies and the Cooper’s, so take the time to correctly identify any hawks you see, before panicking and locking up your pets! The most pronounced differences display the Goshawk with a pronounced white eyebrow and a considerably shorter tail.

Parting Thoughts

A red-tailed hawk circles on a crisp December day

Author Note: Hawks have incredible eyesight which translates into symbolism as clairvoyance or foresight. In addition, the unfurling of their great strong wings signifies an imparting of deeper understanding or expansion of consciousness. 

Flight and travel also provide a symbolic reference for moving forward, If you have been struggling to complete a task or endeavor, now might be the time for the push to complete it. Also if you have been putting off starting a new undertaking, now is the time to look long and hard at that decision. 

The Hawk will not send us along the wrong path – use the Vision of the Hawk to see if we have been putting off an undertaking because it is not the right path. Inversely, the hawk may be showing us that the perfect time has arrived for us to start along that path.

A sighting of the Hawk means the Great Spirit recognizes that a time has come in your life when you need to look to the future. Expand, enhance, and further your focus onto the consequences of your next actions. Allow the message of the hawk to clarify the path towards succeeding in your endeavors.

Whether you view the hawk as a problem or a divine messenger, or simply just an interesting visitor to your garden – the hawk is a beautiful bird of prey to behold. We hope you enjoyed learning the answer to the question “why there is a hawk in my yard?”. 

Fly high friends!

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