Hawks - Bushwhacking Beauties

Cooper's HawkMany 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.

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 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.

To discourage a persistent hawk from hanging around your yard, consider taking down your feeders for a few days. The hawk should go elsewhere in search of food and will hopefully find a new location for hunting. However, if the same hawk or a different one returns to your yard, you will need to repeat the process. Your songbirds will leave while the feeders are down, but they will return once the feeders are re-hung.

In any case, help your birds increase their odds of survival by placing feeders close to ample, natural shelter. Nearby evergreen shrubs, bushes, trees or brush piles provide birds with an easy-to-reach safe haven and helps them avoid becoming part of the eternal cycle of life, for at least another day.