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Hawk Talk

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Tags: Biology, Chicago Academy of Sciences, hawk, peregrine falcon, cooper's hawk, falcon, raptor, bird of prey, survival, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Created: 4/3/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

I often get calls from people who have discovered a hawk frequenting their bird feeders. They are usually rather upset and want to know what they can do to make it go away. This can often lead to quite an interesting and thought-provoking discussion.

Hawk in tree

Firstly, why is it OK to provide all other birds with food except hawks? As with all predators, hawks constantly walk a very fine line between survival and starvation. The Coopers Hawk, which is considered one of the most common urban hawks has been extensively studied, and results show that barely 20% of their hunting attempts are successful. Imagine if only once in every five times you decided to have a meal, you actually got one. You would soon be really hungry! The amount of energy required to take to the wing and actively hunt means that every failed attempt is extremely costly to the hawk. Also, studies have shown that the three most common prey species for urban Coopers Hawks are European Starlings, Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves. Of those, the starling is an invasive species that is rapidly out-competing and threatening less aggressive native species, the Rock Pigeon is widely despised and considered a messy pest by the vast majority of people and the Mourning Dove is one of the most abundant and widespread birds in North America, producing several broods each year.

Hawk eating

The problem, of course, comes from the fact that a lot of people do not want to see an animal killed and eaten by another animal. I used to work in Africa as a safari guide and by far and away the most frequently asked for animals were lions and leopards. Big cats will spend up to 23 hours per day lying around resting and sleeping and trust me, that does not make for very interesting game viewing! But when we happened to come upon these same large predators hunting, many people simply could not bear to watch.

Perched hawk

To develop a true understanding of our natural world it is important to recognize that predators have a vital part in every ecosystem whether it be a sunfish devouring a minnow, a Peregrine Falcon grabbing a pigeon on the wing or a lion pulling down an antelope, they are all an important part of a healthy and balanced environment.

Hawk face closeup

So next time you are fortunate enough to see a hawk in your yard, try not to be tempted to chase it away. Watch it, observe it’s behaviour in relation to its surroundings, how does it use its environment to approach its prey? Is it successful? If not, why not? Don’t think of the hawk as evil or nasty, instead consider how privileged you are to be witnessing nature right in your own back yard.

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  • JoAnne Kempf said (on 4/4/2013 )

    Celeste, I love reading your posts. Always so informative. I have a red-tail hawk who visits my backyard periodically and I love it when he's there. So majestic and so efficient at keeping down the ever-expanding bunny population!

  • Clara Coen said (on 4/8/2013 )

    I totally agree with you. I love the Cooper's Hawk being there and i actually have some great pics of it making short shrift of a pigeon, as people with strollers, joggers, and dogs went by pretty close.(I'll be glad to send you some). Nature is what it is, and we should not interfere. When I first started birding these hawks were fairly rare. Seeing one was considered an event.Mostly it is great to watch its behavior. Last fall I saw it land inside the bushes to the north of the feeders,( out of the corner of my eye). He waited, and slowly approached form inside the bushes, then suddenly made a mad dash for the birds on the grounds. That time it did not catch anything, but it was wonderful to watch.

  • Celeste Troon said (on 4/9/2013 )

    Thanks JoAnne. How lovely to have a Red-tailed Hawk around, glad he is helping to keep your rabbits in check - we could use him round here, our poor horticulturists are being over-run!

  • Celeste Troon said (on 4/9/2013 )

    Hi Clara, We would love to see your photos, especially if they are of the hawk that frequents the museum feeders. We might put it on our facebook page if you would be OK with that. I have seen him using those bushes for cover too, it is very exciting how they adapt to their surroundings.

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