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, August 14, 2011

Can You Scare a Hawk Away?

I was watching the birds last night when WHAM!, a mourning dove bounces off the window. After I make sure the dove has flown away, I look up and see a beautiful Cooper's Hawk sitting on top of my fly-through feeder. He was a little perturbed that the Mourning Dove escaped him but not too worried. There is a lot of wildlife to choose from in our yard. I watched him straighten his feathers, look around, (silence in the yard), and then fly off. I'm sure it had nothing to do with me smashed against the window yelling, "LOOK, LOOK, LOOK!"

There are a lot of new first year hawks in the area and starting in August there is also some shifting in territories as some hawks migrate south.

If you feed birds long enough, a Hawk will likely show up sooner or later. Sometimes the hawk perches for a while. It is on those occasions that the phone at Wild Birds Unlimited starts ringing: "How can I get rid of this thing? It's killing my birds!" Of course that is what certain kinds of hawks do.

The most common neighborhood hawks in mid-Michigan are the sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks. They are usually woodland hunters, and with their habitat shrinking more sitings have been reported at well-stocked feeding stations. Hawks have to eat too, and whether they are hunting around your feeder or off in the woods, they are going to catch about the same amount of prey each day. Consider yourself lucky that you have a front row seat to one of nature's more dramatic dances.

However, most people do not put up feeders with the intention of attracting hawks. They want Cardinals and Chickadees and Goldfinches. Having a hawk blast through, scattering the birds and perhaps carting one off, is not the experience most bird watchers want.

Some steps to take if you have hawks in your yard:
  • 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.
  • 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. 

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you!!! I've got a hawk that has been "terrorizing" my yard, and I feel better about it's presence. I have feeders and a birdbath, as well as squirrels, chipmunks, and song birds. It's been way too quiet as the birds are too scared to show up early in the morning.

Anonymous said...

"Two or three weeks"? I've got a couple of Cooper's that will hang around *all summer*; I can only assume that they've got a nest somewhere in the area and view my feeders as their personal buffet.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they are hanging around all summer here too. Will a fake owl help scare them away.

Anonymous said...

me, too! a pair started hanging around late spring, & then i discovered the nest right in the back yard (tall pine tree on the other side of the duplex). i thought they had left, but all of a sudden there was a huge increase in hawk noise/flight/etc.... i've been lucky to catch a lot of cool photos, but i don't like it when they have little bird legs in the meal ones. thanks for this article, though - i put my one remaining feeder back up that i'd just taken down earlier.

Anonymous said...

i was wondering the same thing (but i'd read elsewhere that it wouldn't help, but that i think was in response to a question about a larger hawk). mine's in the back yard probably just for today - they seemed to make a lot of noise after i put it up though.

JimBob said...

The problem here in Los Angeles with putting protective greenery around the seed feeders is the access it provides for squirrels to lay waste. I have watched squirrels go through calculations worthy of a structural engineer, figuring out the best height, angle and speed with which to achieve a landing. Any opportunity, they will make the most of it. Thus, the feeder needs to stand clear and the COHA has a pretty clear shot. But, as the article so rightly says, it's all part of the cycle -- especially where mourning doves are concerned: there seems to be an unending supply of this very fine meal for a hawk.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly our story. A cooper hawk came after a mourning dove chilling at the feeder, dove hit the window, was chased down and was attacked a few times by the hawk. The hawk just sat in a resulting pile of dove feathers. I don't think it actually ended up eating the dove.

Either way, not a single cardinal, chickadee, dove or sparrow has visited the feeder since. Good to know the hawk eventually moves on.

Anonymous said...

The Cooper Hawks are slowly decimation g my chicken flock. I even catch them hanging out in my barn trying to catch the many birds that live in there with my horses. I'm so attached to my chickens and they also provide me eggs...really traumatic when they are taken.

Jerry said...

would a bull horn scare them off if I recorded a certain sound on it? What sounds would drive a hawk off?