About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hawks at Feeders

A Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)Image via Wikipedia
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Bushwhacking Beauties
Many backyard bird feeding enthusiasts have a true love/hate relationship with hawks.

When a “bushwhacking” hawk has been at work at your backyard feeders, the cycle of life can become just a bit too personal. However, seeing a Sharp-shinned Hawk blasting through the backyard in search of prey can provide a moment of exhilaration.

This cycle of life drama is natural and occurs whether or not you feed the birds.

Cooper's Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, left; Sharp...Image via Wikipedia
Cooper's Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, left;
Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus, right
The Sharp-shinned Hawk and its slightly larger twin, the Cooper’s Hawk, must catch and eat at least one item of prey every day to survive. Sharp-shinned Hawks prey almost exclusively on other birds; Cooper’s Hawks will eat other birds and occasionally a few small mammals, too.

Regardless of the location or setting, these hawks are successful in catching their prey about a third of the time. If a hawk survives long enough to reach adulthood, it is very skilled and has the potential to live up to 20 years in the wild.

Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s Hawks’ short, powerful wings and long tail help them rapidly twist and turn in flight while chasing prey in dense woodland habitats. Even with this incredible agility, these hawks face plenty of danger while in a frenzied pursuit for a meal. A recent study showed that 23% of the examined Cooper’s Hawks had healed fractures in the bones of their chest. These fractures were likely the result of collisions with trees.

What Steps Can I Take to Deter Hawks?

First and foremost, federal and state laws prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks and owls. Raptors at bird feeding stations are a problem only when they perch nearby all day. The birds return as soon as the hawk flys away. So rather than get upset, enjoy a close-up look at these magnificent birds while they are in your yard.

Place your feeders where there is ample natural protection. Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide an easy escape for the birds. If there is none available, consider planting a few varieties this spring.

Lastly, acknowledge that a few birds and squirrels will be caught by hawks at your feeders. This is part of the cycle. Raptors play an important role in controlling the populations. Also keep in mind; songbirds are difficult for hawks to catch. Few are caught by birds of prey.

Ultimately, the only thing you can do when a hawk comes to dinner is wait it out. Most hawks that settle in at feeders do so for two or three weeks and then they are off again to different territory. The presence of hawks at your feeders should in no way cause you to discontinue feeding birds. Just take a few simple steps to protect them and enjoy a season of bird feeding.
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