Into The Air

The Official Blog of Backyard Chirper

How to protect your feeders from hungry hawks

Cooper's Hawk

Courtesy of H. Gilbert Miller

If you’ve ever owned a bird feeder, you’ve probably seen this sad and alarming scene. Near one of your bird feeders is a bunch of feathers strewn all over the place as if there was a major kerfuffle. Even though you might hope that it’s simply the result of birds molting their feathers, you know that one of your precious backyard birds was plucked from the sky by a bigger bird of prey.

While you likely put out feeders to provide food for birds, you probably didn’t mean that way. Sure it’s a part of nature, but it’s not something you necessarily want to happen on your watch. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to discourage birds of prey from using your bird feeder as a place for easy pickings.

Gimme shelter

Just like The Rolling Stones, all the birds want when they’re being targeted by hawks is some shelter. There are a few ways you accomplish this. You can put your feeders near shrubbery and bushes to give birds a quick place to hide in the event of an attack. You can put a cover over the top of the feeder. Here’s what Jim Wright at NorthJersey.com recommends as another option:

Similarly, I have placed an old owl nesting box near the base of the feeders to provide an air-raid shelter when hawks are hunting.

Be mindful of where you place the feeder

I’ve talked about this at length in other posts, but it’s essential to keep in mind where you place your backyard feeder. It’s almost an art because of how many things you have to take into consideration. For example, a big danger to birds when there’s a hawk attack is windows. In the panic to disperse, birds may accidentally fly into windows, so don’t put your feeders too close to them. Also, make sure there are no great vantage points for hawks to look down at the feeder and formulate a plan of attack.

Put wire cages around the feeder

A wire cage around the feeder gives birds protection against hawks and keeps invasive species like blackbirds or squirrels from getting your seed or suet. Caged feeders usually only allow smaller birds to access the food and keep away unwanted hawks.

Remove food sources for hawks

If your backyard is filled with delicious mice and voles, hawks will be naturally drawn to your yard and will ultimately target your backyard birds. In certain areas, it’s hard to get rid of a hawk’s favorite food, but you should definitely try if you’re having a major problem.

Temporarily take down the feeders

As a last resort, if the hawk attacks are persisting, consider taking down your feeders for a while. This will disperse the birds and cause any hawks to move on from your backyard. It’s recommended you leave them down for two weeks to a month.

Don’t be cruel!

If you’re reading this blog, I don’t have to tell you not to shoot or trap hawks that might be targeting your feeders. Not only is it illegal, but it’s also plain wrong. Another thing you should avoid is releasing cats to discourage hawks because they will have unintended consequences on your backyard’s ecosystem and potentially kill more birds than the hawks!

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13 Comments

  1. Thank you, this is good information. I have been feeding the back yard birds for over 20 years.

  2. Julie

    I get really upset when my doves live through minus 30 Celsius just to be eaten by hawks in the spring. I wish there was a real solution to keep hawks away from by yard.

    • Timothy Martinez Jr.

      Yes, it’s sad, but that’s also nature. There are things you can do, but in the end, hawks need to eat too.

  3. Bobbi

    The thing is, they don’t snatch birds off of feeders- they take those eating off the ground. So I don’t see how a cage around the feeder helps with hawks, though it might help keep squirrels off the feeder.
    I keep looking for some type of umbrella cover over a feeder pole. ?

    • ElleD

      That’s what I always thought, too, Bobbi. Two weeks ago, I watched a Cooper’s Hawk appear & snatch a blue jay from a suet feeder. That poor jay screamed & screamed as the hawk plucked his feathers out one by one. I learned recently from a falconer that not only do hawks need to eat, but they also are most likely to catch birds that are slow, weak or ill, thus preventing the spread of disease among songbirds & preventing those with undesirable traits from passing those characteristics on. Still, it’s hard to watch. I love feeding & watching the birds, but very few have returned since that incident…

    • Ellie kahn

      thank you for this — I Googled after a hawk hit the window by my office — have no idea if he had anything in his mouth, but I’ve been feeding lots of doves, on the ground in my yard. (I’m insane enough that I have placed umbrellas over much of the yard to hide them from hawks… no feeders. It’s good to remember that this is just nature, but I confess that I get really emotional about it all. I have 2 doves nesting on my patio and worry a lot that one will become dinner for the local hawks. I’ll stop putting out birdseed for a while… and remember that I can’t control everything. darn.

      • Barb F.

        Do you mean actual rain umbrellas? I’m having the same problem with my ground feeding doves, they are being desimated by the hawk. This hawk has been around forever., and since the neighbors trimmed their tree, she has the perfect birds eye view.
        I’m going to try the umbrella .

    • J

      They DO take birds off of feeders. I watched it happen at a feeder next to my patio door.

  4. maria

    I have also placed owl and hawk decoys for the Hawks as well and they seemed to work pretty good I have to them in my backyard the bird still come around but the Hawks I think twice these because I have actually swing back and forth and they have like real life movements so I haven’t had a hot issue in my backyard for about 2 years and I used to have at least one week so works great for me

  5. maria

    I also have two massive umbrellas that totally cover the bird feeder and the Hawks have no way of getting and I have totally blocked it

  6. yvette

    Adding to the above, hawks sweep down and snatch the doves who walk along the wall, near the feeder. The finches fly away but slow moving doves have no chance. Heartbreaking to witness. I’m removing feeder for a few days in the hopes of hawk deciding to hunt elsewhere. 🙁

  7. Lisa Moreno

    I too had to take my feeder down. My neighbor who’s house is a little lower on the hill has a much better feeder for the birds only because his house is at a lower level so it gives the birds a better view of incoming hawks for them to flee. Im thrilled the success my neighbor has so at least the birds get feed but I’m sad because I miss the beautiful songs the birds around would sing when they were happy with the feeder.
    I do love the beauty of a hawk but wish they would only prey on rodents not other birds. With us being on hills we do have plenty of lizards and mice but the hawks will take what they can get if its an easy target. I thank God i have never visual seen it happen, I would cry for days!

  8. Suzi

    A large hawk just killed a rabbit in my garden … it breaks my heart. I have built a sanctuary for the birds by attaching three large metal arbors together and covering the entire structure in chicken wire. I keep the feeders and birdbath inside, and one of the arbors has a double dutch door that opens so that I can go in to fill the feeder and clean the birdbath. It really does help, but it’s not foolproof. I am now growing a climbing vine to cover the enclosure so that the hawk can’t see the birds inside. There are often 20 or 30 birds in the sanctuary at a time. Now I need to devise a way to protect the rabbits! In the summer, there is plenty of cover for them in the garden, but at this time of year, the garden is bare … perhaps more low-growing evergreen bushes would help.

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