As you may know, hawks are considered to be birds of prey. This means that they are carnivores that eat carrion (dead animals) or animals that they hunt. In this article, we will discuss the hawk’s diet more in-depth by addressing various hawk species and habitats, and the typical diet of hawks.


The Typical Hawk Diet

A hawk’s diet varies quite a bit depending on their location. Therefore, not every hawk species has a diet that is exactly the same. However, there are some patterns in the hawk’s typical diet that can be seen for the most part across all species. Hawks often feed on small mammals such as squirrels, hares, gophers, prairie dogs, rabbits, and chipmunks; rodents such as mice, voles, and rats; amphibians such as frogs and salamanders; reptiles such as snakes, turtles, and lizards; and various insects.

Some hawk species, such as the Cooper’s hawk, even specialize in eating other birds. The Cooper’s hawk often eats medium-sized birds such as jays and robins. The sharp-shinned hawk, a small hawk native to the United States, eats almost exclusively other birds.

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The 4 Common Hawk Species and Habitats

There are over 200 species of hawk throughout the world, including about 25 species in the United States. They have various types of habitats in many different climates, so the type of food they typically feed on depends heavily on what’s available in their area. For example, some hawks tend to live in open areas, such as fields and deserts, and hunt prey that also inhabit those areas. However, they can also be found in woodlands, wetlands, rainforests, and even urban areas.

Below, we will discuss a few of the most common hawk species that can be found in North America.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk_Pixabay
Image credit: Pixabay

The red-tailed hawk is the most well-known species of hawk on the continent. They can be identified by their namesake, their brownish-red tail. They are commonly found in almost every state in the U.S. except for Alaska, Hawaii, and North Dakota. As you might expect based on how common they are, they can be found across many different types of habitats.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's hawk perched on a tree waiting for a meal in Michigan
Image Credit: Rajh.Photography, Shutterstoc

The Cooper’s hawk is a medium-sized bird that can be found in woodlands. Like the red-tailed hawk, they are found in most U.S. states, but they are not as ubiquitous as the red-tailed hawk. Their populations decreased in the 1900s, possibly due to pesticides, but they have started to recover and now have a stable population.

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk in Desert Tucson Arizona
Image Credit: Nelson Sirlin, Shutterstock

If you are looking for a ferruginous hawk, you are likely to find one in prairies, deserts, and grasslands. They prefer open spaces where they can easily swoop down to catch their prey. They are most commonly found in the southwestern United States in places such as Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson Hawks side view_ Laurie E Wilson_Shutterstock
Image credit: Laurie E Wilson, Shutterstock

The Swainson’s hawk is considered to be a long-distance migrant who does its breeding in the Western United States during the spring and summer but travels down to South America come fall and winter. When in North America, it is most commonly found in the grasslands and plains of the west, ranging from the Dakotas to Texas, Nevada, Idaho, and even Oregon. The Swainson’s hawk has started to decline in population for reasons that are not yet well understood.

divider-birds Final Thoughts

Hawks are carnivores that will often eat just about anything to survive. As birds of prey, they are relatively high up on the food chain and will hunt just about any small animal—birds, amphibians, reptiles, rodents, fish, and sometimes livestock or pets.

Featured Image Credit by Photoshooter2015, Shutterstock