What Do Hawks Eat?

By John Lindell; Updated April 24, 2017

Hawks are birds of prey, also called raptors, which have a presence all over the world except for Antarctica. They possess the attributes of exceptionally fine eyesight, sharp beaks and talons for grabbing their prey, and they have the ability to spot their potential meal with binocular-like vision. Most hawks are what are known as sit-and-wait predators, staying in a selected spot till an animal comes along that they can kill and eat. What exactly is on a hawk's menu?


The red-tailed hawk is one of the most widespread species of hawks, living throughout almost all of North America. It will eat small mammals such as mice, moles and shrews. But it is large enough to kill and eat rabbits; waterfowl, like ducks; bats; and even fish. Snakes and lizards as well as frogs and toads, are also part of its diet.


The Cooper's hawk has almost as wide a range as the red-tailed hawk. It will hunt small mammals such as squirrels and chipmunks but makes medium sized birds a very large part of its diet. They will catch a bird with their feet and squeeze it many times until it is dead. Cooper's hawks have even been observed drowning a bird in water to kill it before eating it. They aren't shy about killing a bird at a bird feeder.


The red shouldered hawk is found in the eastern half of the United States and into Mexico. It will eat bird's eggs as well as small animals and insects. It will also eat small snakes. This hawk is different from others in that they will sometimes mix in with crows. This is significant since crows are an enemy to almost all other birds because of their habit of eating eggs from other nests, and because they attack and drive off great horned owls and other hawk species.


Harris's hawk is a raptor of the desert southwest in the United States and its range extends all the way down to Chile. They are known to hunt in groups of as many as five but usually in twos or threes. By functioning in this manner they are able to surround and kill animals as large as jackrabbits, which they then share. They also eat many lizards and species of snakes.


The red-tailed hawk is also commonly called a "chicken hawk." It is thought to constantly be searching for chickens out of their coops to make a meal out of them but this is not true of the bird today. They earned this nickname way back in earlier times in America when chickens and other domesticated birds used to roam about a farm freely. The young hawks, who were first starting out on their own after receiving meals from their parents, found these chickens easy targets and would kill and eat some. However, farmers still firmly believe that red-tailed hawks will kill their chickens every chance they get.

About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.