Bird Watcher's General Store

Big Hawks vs.Little Hawks - 01/25/02


Dear Bird Folks,

I have been reading your thoughts about bird-eating hawks. I have a huge hawk that sits in a tree in my yard and my feeder birds don't seem to mind. Are my birds brave or are they just stupid?
Troy, Mashpee

Hi Troy,

See, I told you it was hawk question season. No, your birds aren't either brave or stupid, they are rather smart. The hawk that is hanging out in your yard is probably a red-tailed hawk. Like I told Rosie's family up above, some hawks prefer birds and others prefer mammals. Redtails are mammal-eating hawks. They aren't agile enough to catch little songibrds. They are much better at catching critters on the ground. (Hear that, Rosie?) Your feeder birds are smart enough to know it. Last week I was walking along the power lines in Wellfleet when a redtail came out of the woods and landed on the utility pole. The big hawk landed right in the middle of a flock of bluebirds that were enjoying the late afternoon sun. I half expected the sight of the hawk to scatter the birds in all directions, but the bluebirds had no reaction to the big hawk at all. They know who the bad guys are.

That is not to say that a redtail hawl wouldn't eat a bird, they would love to if the opportunity presented itself. Just yesterday we saw one nail a gull that was eating bread in our back parking lot. The gull was a little careless and suddenly it was on a one-way trip to that big landfill in the sky. But feeder birds are a lot quicker than gulls. They know that they have the speed to avoid this big hawk if it decides to make a move.

Even though it seems odd, under the right situation songbirds and big hawks can coexist. However, I wouldn't let your pet hanster play out on the swing set in your backyard for any length of time. It may end up becoming a roommate with that gull.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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