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All About Chicken Hawks 

chicken hawks featured image

Are you a chicken owner who is feeling leery about Chicken Hawks?

This article will provide an overview of what these magnificent avian predators are capable of and how they might put your flock at risk.

You’ll learn tips and tricks for attack prevention that can help keep your chickens safe while abiding by state and federal laws.

Read on to find out more about Chicken Hawks so that you can better protect yourself and your chickens and learn how to respectfully keep this bird of prey at bay.

What You Should Know About Chicken Hawks as a Chicken Owner

The Chicken Hawk is a captivating bird of prey that has been around for thousands of years.

First, the nickname “chicken hawk” is pretty inaccurate.

These hawks do not primarily eat chickens as their source of food.

Instead, they tend to eat rodents, small birds, and wild rabbits instead. 75% of their diet consists of small mammals such as mice, rabbits, rats, ground squirrels, moles, voles, and more.

  • 16% of their diet comes from invertebrates like grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles.
  • 6% comes from snakes, frogs, toads, and other small reptiles and amphibians.
  • 2% of their diet consists of birds like starlings, flickers, pigeons, or the occasional domestic bird.
  • 1% of their diet is fish.

Next, the term “Chicken Hawk” is typically used to refer to three types of hawks in the Accipitridae family: Red Tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawk (Quail Hawk), and Sharp-shinned Hawks.

This bird is mainly a carnivore preying on small animals such as small birds, rodents, snakes, and frogs but will also scavenge meat from carcasses when times are tough.

Natural Pest Control

Presenting a unique benefit to humans, they act as a form of natural pest control while helping maintain balance within the ecosystem.

They are at the top of the food chain in almost all areas across America.

Without any limiting factors, two mice can quickly become thousands in only six months—a statistic that demonstrates their remarkable reproductive potential.

If rodents were temporarily out of balance due to this exponential growth or any other factor, they could compete with game birds like pheasants and other animals for the limited food supply during wintertime.

Meanwhile, ground-nesting birds such as quail would be at risk from an increased rate of egg loss due to predators such as snakes if there was an imbalance in those populations.

These birds play critical roles in regulating food chains all over North America, and because of that, they are protected species.

Protected by the Law

The Migratory Treaty Act made it illegal for people to capture, kill, injure, poison, harass, or harm any bird of prey.

It is also illegal to possess live or dead birds of prey. It’s also illegal to possess any parts of these birds, including any of their feathers or skeletons you may have harmlessly found.

Violations are punishable with fines up to $250,000 or sometimes more, depending on the severity of the violation.

Violations can also result in jail time, a confiscation of possession, and (temporary or permanent) revocation of licenses.

What Do Chicken Hawks Look Like?

Red-Tailed Hawks

red tailed hawk chicken predator

Red-Tailed Hawks are somewhat large, being larger than a crow but smaller than a goose.

They have beautiful color variations, from the warm chocolate brown and red tail of dark morphs to rufous morphs with reddish-brown chests and a darker lower body.

The tails can also appear to be a vibrant shade of orange rather than red, too.

Young hawks tend to be more subdued in their coloring, richly colored below but lightly streaked above with mottled cinnamon tails.

They commonly fly high above open fields and meadows in search of mice and rodents.

In more powerful winds, they may even hover in one place without flapping their wings—they’re keeping an expert eye out for prey below.

They are smart, too. They know to keep the sun to their front so that their shadows don’t give away their location to their prey down below.

When attacking, these raptors take on a graceful dive, very unlike falcons’ characteristic stoops!

Cooper’s Hawk

cooper's hawk - chicken hawks

Cooper’s Hawk is slightly smaller than Red-Tailed Hawks and about the same size as a crow.

Adults of the Cooper’s Hawk species boast a steely blue-gray coloration on their upper parts, contrasted with warm reddish bars and thick dark bands adorning its tail.

Juveniles have an unmistakably hooded look due to their brown hue combined with crisp streaking on the breast—far more distinct than that seen in the similar Sharp-Shinned Hawks.

Cooper’s Hawks are expert hunters, employing a distinct wing pattern of alternating flaps and glides with surprising their prey.

When crossing large open areas, they often opt for this approach as opposed to continuous flapping.

When in pursuit, these hawks may even fly fast and low before ascending suddenly up and over obstacles, maximizing the element of surprise on their unsuspecting prey.

You are much less likely to find Cooper’s Hawk in the open like a Red-tailed Hawk. Instead, they prefer more wooded habitats.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk - chicken hawk

Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest of the “Chicken Hawk” variety.

They are smaller than Cooper’s Hawk and crows but larger than Robin birds.

Small yet powerful raptors who possess long tails that may have a notch at the tip. They have distinctly rounded wings and heads which don’t protrude beyond their “wrists” in flight. 

Females of this species are larger than males.

Adult Sharp-Shinned Hawks have slaty-blue grey wings, backs, heads, and backs of necks.

They then boast a vibrant color palette of deep gray hues, contrasted with striking horizontal red-orange bars across the breast, throat, and underneath their head.

In contrast, juvenile birds have much more subtle brown feathers patterned by thick vertical lines on white undersides.

Both young and old Sharp-shinned hawks showcase bold dark bands that adorn their lengthy tails.

This creates an unmistakable profile when they are in flight.

How To Protect Chickens From Chicken Hawks

Now let’s get into the best methods for protecting your chickens from these “chicken hawks” without harming the hawks or causing any legal issues for yourself.

1. Keep Your Chickens in a Run with a Roof

Hawks simply cannot harm your chickens if they are confined to a run with a secure roof on it.

We already made a guide that covers the six best chicken run roof ideas (plus one bad idea).

2. Provide Lots of Covers

If your chickens have a lot of hiding places, they will do much better when free-ranging.

If you were on the fence about mowing that overgrown field, then this is your sign to keep it long.

Tall grasses, shrubs, trees, benches, picnic tables, and even porches and shed make for excellent cover.

These items create good hiding places, but they also allow your chickens to better blend in with their habitat with less risk, to begin with.

3. Keep a Few Aggressive Roosters

aggressive rooster

Some roosters are truly gifted protectors and providers.

If you’re able to, keep at least one mean rooster who has made it his entire mission to protect his land and his hens.

He will stay on high alert at all times, watching the skies for hawks, calling out warnings when they are seen, and then protecting and even fighting birds of prey as needed.

RELATED: Best Chicken Breeds for Predators

4. Limit Free-Range Time

The less time your chickens have outside, the fewer chances your local wildlife will have to nab them up.

If you’re concerned about predators, wait until a few hours before sunset to let your chickens out of their coop and run.

They will spend this time outside but happily put themselves back inside as dusk falls.

Most people are off of work in the evenings too. This will allow you to supervise your chickens as they get their much-appreciated outside time in.

5. Add Chicken Breeds That Resemble Ravens or Crows

Hawks do not want to tango with ravens or crows, so add in a few black chicken breeds to mimic these natural foes.

Here is a list of black chicken breeds that will likely help you out here.

6. Cover the Chicken Feeders and Waterers

Hawks aren’t interested in chicken feed, but they are interested in “sitting ducks” who are preoccupied with food and water.

If possible, keep the feeding and watering stations either inside the coop or outside in the run, under a secure roof.

Hawks like to have the element of surprise whenever possible, so take that factor away whenever possible.

7. Use Scarecrows and Decoy Owls

Even if you can’t be around all the time, it doesn’t mean that you can’t put off the illusion that you are!

Make a scarecrow or two, and then have fun moving them all over your property at random.

Hawks will understand that if the scarecrow stays in one location for too long (more than a day or two or three), then it is fake.

Even though hawks hunt during daylight while owls hunt at night, you can use owl decoys to push hawks and other predators away.

They do their best not to interfere with other birds’ hunting grounds.

If you can make them think that your place has already been “claimed” by a different bird, then you can prevent lots of injuries and deaths to your chicken flock.

Chicken Hawks – Final Thoughts

Predators and preys live in the world for a reason; learning how to coexist is important.

And chicken hawks, inasmuch as they’re a terror for us chicken owners, also have their own purpose and role in this world.

Instead of hunting them down, there are a lot of measures we can take to protect our flock, instead!

READ NEXT: Chicken Predators: Signs of Attack and Prevention

One thought on “All About Chicken Hawks 

  1. I lost two chickens recently to a hawk. One was my bantam English fighting rooster and who was defending my Banti hen from the hawk . I started out with a scarecrow in the chicken yard that I moved around at least once a week. Over time I got complacent. The scarecrow rotted and fell apart, but I left the remains sitting in a chair for the hens to hide under. And then the attack happened. After reading all of the normal ways to protect the flock, I bought an air dancer. I also bought extra colors of dancers to change out and move the air dancer twice a week. So far it is working very well, but in a high wind the dancer can not stay in the air. I got a full sized aggressive barred rock rooster to put in the pen. However in the high winds, the Hawks probably have trouble hunting too. That’s when the rooster will hopefully protect the flock. My chicken run is large and will be extremely difficult to cover it.

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