Hawks are some of the most ubiquitous birds in the world. They’re found on every continent except Antarctica and go by many common names, including buzzard, harrier, kite, caracara, and falcon. Hawks are members of the Accipitridae family of birds; they’re characterized by their meat-eating habits and hooked beaks. They have excellent eyesight, which they use to zero in on unsuspecting prey. With such incredible hunting prowess, it’s no wonder so many people want to know: do hawks hunt at night?
Hawks might be winged killers in the eyes of small mammals, but, luckily for humans, they’re no threat to us. Here, we’ll find out just when hawks like to hunt, and what they prefer to eat. We’ll also find out what creatures prey on hawks, and whether or not they’re dangerous to small dogs and cats.
Read on to find out if hawks hunt at night!
What is a Hawk?
Unlike condors or bald eagles, hawks are typically medium to small birds. But, despite their size, they’re all fearsome predators. Hawks are generally tree nesting, ground hunting birds, with a few exceptions. But perhaps one of the most interesting questions surrounding the mighty hawk is whether or not hawks hunt at night. Let’s get to know these beautiful birds of prey a little better before diving in.
Appearance and Size
Hawks can be categorized into two distinct groups: Accipiter hawks, and Buteo hawks. Accipiter hawks, also known as true hawks, include sharp-shinned hawks and goshawks. They tend to be smaller than Buteo hawks, with hooked beaks and large talons. Most Accipiter hawks are either brown or gray, with varying patterns and markings.
Buteo hawks, also known as buzzard hawks, include red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks. They’re often larger than true hawks but maintain the sharply hooked beak and hunting tactics.
Diet and Hunting
Hawks are hunters, much like lions, sharks, and wolves. But hawks don’t do their hunting from the ground, like terrestrial creatures. When hawks hunt, they most often start from a perch, like a tree, telephone pole, or rocky cliff. Hawks have extremely good eyesight, up to seven times better than humans. They can even detect ultraviolet light. Their vision, along with their incredible flying speed, is their secret weapon when it comes to hunting.
Young hawks eat mostly insects and other small creatures, like lizards and mice. But, as they mature, and their hunting strategy improves, their diet expands to include rats, prairie dogs, snakes—even venomous rattlesnakes—and any other small creatures that happen across their path.
What Time of Day Do Hawks Attack?
Hawks might be fearsome, and some believe that hawks hunt at night. But, fortunately for nocturnal creatures, hawks are strictly diurnal; they don’t hunt at night. The reason for this is that hawks are adapted for seeing in the daytime, and they can even see well in the lowlight hours of dawn and dusk. Hunting at night is better left to other avian predators, like owls.
Is There a Hawk That Hunts at Night?
We’ve learned that hawks are diurnal (active during the day), but do some hawks hunt at night? This question is most commonly posed in reference to the red-tailed hawk. Red-tailed hawks are often seen plummeting to the ground to attack prey just before full dark, which has led many to believe that these birds are nighttime predators. However, red-tailed hawks, and other species of hawk, only hunt up to the lowlight hours of dusk. When the sun goes down, and all the light has faded from the sky, the hawk returns to its nest for the night.
What Are Hawks Afraid Of?
Hawks aren’t the biggest birds out there, and they’re not the only birds of prey. It turns out that hawks have a pretty good reason for spending the dark hours safe in their nests — owls. Owls are kings of the night, particularly when it comes to small creatures like mice, shrews, and even cats and baby raccoons and opossums. But owls won’t just stop at terrestrial prey, they’ll snack on a hawk if the opportunity arises. Hawks are also at risk from crows and ravens, as well as snakes and other creatures that eat their eggs and fledglings.
Where Do Hawks Go at Night?
Most hawk species nest in trees, far from the ground and all the dangers present there. However, a few spend their nights in cliffside nests, or even, occasionally, in nests built into abandoned buildings. Many hawks hunt right up until full dark, but, if hawks hunt at night, they put themselves in a very vulnerable position. Hawks aren’t built for nighttime hunting, so, instead, they stay safe in their nests. Chances are very good that you’ll never see a hawk at night, unless you’re climbing trees looking for nests.
Can Hawks Pick Up Dogs or Cats?
For many pet owners, the fear of a predatory bird taking off with a cat or a dog is very real. Luckily, for most pet owners, the chances of losing Fluffy to a hawk are very small. However, hawks have occasionally been reported attacking small cats or dogs. Typically, this is only a possibility for dogs that weigh six pounds or less, like chihuahuas. Other birds that may prey on dogs or cats include eagles and vultures.
Are Hawks Good to Have Around?
For many, hawks may seem like a nuisance. Now that we know that hawks do not hunt at night, we don’t need to worry about them in the dark. But, what about during the day? Should you be worried if you have hawks living near your home?
The answer is, probably not. Hawks are excellent pest controllers — if you have a problem with mice, rats, or even moles, the presence of a hawk or two is sure to help. As long as you don’t have very small dogs or cats spending a lot of time outside without cover, you have nothing to worry about from hawks.
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- JSTOR, Available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4311
- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/hawk-bird
- National Audubon Society, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/red-tailed-hawk