How to Keep Birds of Prey out of Your Backyard Feeder

We were thrilled when red-tailed hawks nested in a pine tree towering above our neighborís house. It was exciting that they had chosen to raise their babies so close, and we were hoping to have some awesome sightings of youngsters soaring overhead.

But then the hawks, who are birds of prey, took to sitting on trees above our backyard bird feeders, and suddenly it didnít seem so cool to have these magnificent creatures as neighbors.

I know these†raptors have to eat, too, but I hate to think that I am making an easy target of the little birds by attracting them to†our feeders.

“Red-tailed hawks will take songbirds but they have such broad wings they have a hard time catching them,” said Emily Nestlerode, director of wildlife education at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum in Cornwall, NY. “They are more likely to be watching the feeder for the squirrels or chipmunks who are eating seed from the ground around the feeders.”

Birds of prey more likely to take birds from backyard feeders include:

  • kestrels
  • peregrine falcons
  • sharp-shinned hawks
  • sparrow hawks
  • Cooperís hawks

Nestlerode said that hunting is a hard skill for raptors to learn, and many succumb to starvation in their first year. In fact, 50 percent of red-tailed hawks donít make it through their first winter because itís so hard for them to hunt.

It’s important, she said, for us to remember that by putting up bird feeders, we are altering nature.

hawk-with-bird-from-feeder

“We are attracting large numbers of small birds to gather in one place to eat, which is great but we are also providing a bird feeder for raptors,” the naturalist said. “Itís definitely hard to see a bird being taken from the feeder but predation is part of nature. Itís something that happens out of our sight in nature all the time.”

Under no circumstances should people harass raptors to keep them away from feeders. That includes shooting off fireworks in the direction of the raptors, throwing rocks at them or attempting to touch or grab them.

“It is against state and federal law to kill, injure or harass any of our native birds,” Nestlerode said. “Raptors have a hard enough time surviving without having to deal with harassment from people.”

Here are some tips on how to discourage birds of prey from visiting your backyard feeders.

Take a break from feeding the birds.

At this time of year, adult raptors are likely to take advantage of backyard feeders to hunt for food for their babies. If it really upsets you to find feathers around your feeder, or to see a hawk coming in for the kill, naturalists recommend taking down your feeders for a few weeks.

The raptors will move on to find a new hunting ground, and the little birds will return once the feeders go back up.

Provide shelter.

You can leave the feeders up and provide natural cover to help protect the songbirds.

Experts at Wild Birds Unlimited suggest placing the feeders within 10 feet of dense trees, shrubbery or brush piles so birds can reach the cover quickly if they feel threatened. In the winter, old Christmas trees placed near feeders provide great cover.

Install 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 unwanted hawks away.

Shield feeders.

Wild Birds Unlimited experts suggest placing feeders in covered areas such as under an awning or hanging from lower tree branches making it difficult for raptors to see the birds at the feeder.

Covered platform feeders†or feeders with hooded covers may also provide some protection from circling hawks.

coveredbirdfeeder

Grow plants that provide food and cover.

Instead of feeders, Nestlerode suggests growing native flowers and fruiting shrubs and trees. For example, cherry trees or blueberry, raspberry or mulberry bushes. These will provide natural food and cover for the birds.

Choose the feeder location wisely.

Donít put your feeders too close to windows, because if a hawk attacks and a small bird panics he or she can fly into windows. Also make sure that there are no great vantage points for hawks to look down on a feeder to plan an attack.

Avoid ground feeding.

Birds that feed on the ground are more vulnerable to hawk attacks, because they cannot react as quickly to a predator, and their options are limited as to where to go. Avoid low feeders and keep the area under your feeders clean to cut down on the number of ground-feeding birds being taken by hawks.

Attract crows to your backyard.

Some people attract crows to their yards by putting out food scraps and peanuts. The crows will gang up on raptors and chase them away from your yard.

Be aware, however, that if you keep nesting boxes, crows may attack these and take the eggs and fledglings. Nestlerode loves having crows around her property where she raises chickens.

“I only allow the chickens to free range when Iím at home to protect them from predators,” Nestlerode said. “The crows alert me whenever thereís a hawk around because they create such a ruckus.”

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

54 comments

Marie W
Marie W8 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Renata B
Renata B2 months ago

There was a bird of prey (or more likely a couple) years ago a kestrel I think. But they have gone now.

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Elizabeth B
Elizabeth Brawn4 months ago

birds of prey are different in different countries don't forget

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Marija M
Marija M5 months ago

tks

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Cindy S
Past Member 5 months ago

thanks
omg the pic Is so sad!

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Danny C
Danny Chan5 months ago

This is very valuable information. I had a birdfeeder in my backyard for a few years and had no idea they could attract birds of prey. Thank you for sharing. :-)

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Edgar Z
Edgar Zuim6 months ago

Thanks.

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RICKY S
RICKY SLOAN6 months ago

WOW

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Colin Clauscen
Colin C6 months ago

I never see Raptors Cats are the biggest killers where I live

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Leo C
Leo Custer6 months ago

thank you for sharing!

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