Do Hawks Eat Cardinals? [All You Need to Know]

You must have seen hawks preying on and eating different kinds of birds. It’s a daily sight as birds are a part of their diet. So are cardinals also included in the list? Do hawks eat cardinals?

The hawks eat the cardinals. In fact, they prey on any kind of bird that is smaller than them. But it’s not an everyday sight, as adult cardinals are comparatively large. So if there are small birds to prey on, hawks won’t take a chance on cardinals.

In the rest of the article, I’ve discussed specific species of hawks that eat cardinals and some related topics. If you are keeping cardinals, I would recommend you to read till the end so that you can know which species of hawks are dangerous for your favorite cardinals.

Why Do Hawks Eat Cardinals?

Hawks are birds of prey, and their diet typically consists of smaller birds, mammals, and insects. They hunt for a variety of species, and cardinals, being relatively small birds, can become prey for larger raptors like Cooper’s hawks or sharp-shinned hawks, which are well adapted to hunting in wooded areas where cardinals often reside.

Do Hawks Eat Cardinals

The primary reasons hawks might prey on cardinals include:

  1. Natural Predatory Instincts: Hawks are carnivorous and have evolved to hunt and eat other animals to survive. Small birds like cardinals are often the right size for hawks to manage.
  2. Availability of Prey: In areas where cardinals are abundant, they naturally become a more common food source for hawks.
  3. Energetic Efficiency: Hawks seek to maximize their energy intake with the least amount of energy expended during the hunt. Cardinals, often found at bird feeders or foraging on the ground, can be easier targets for hawks compared to other more elusive or faster-flying birds.

It’s all part of the natural food chain and ecological balance. Hawks help to control the populations of their prey species, which can also benefit the ecosystem by ensuring that no single species dominates to the detriment of others.

How Do Hawks Hunt Cardinals?

Hawks employ various hunting strategies, often tailored to the environment and the type of prey they are targeting. When hunting smaller birds like cardinals, hawks typically use the element of surprise and their agile flying skills to capture their prey. Here’s a breakdown of their hunting method:

  1. Stealth and Ambush: Hawks often remain hidden within the canopy or behind foliage to stay out of sight while keeping a sharp eye on potential prey. They may watch bird feeders or areas where cardinals are known to forage.
  2. Quick and Sudden Attacks: Once a hawk spots a cardinal, it will launch a rapid attack. The hawk’s flight is fast and silent, allowing it to swoop down on the cardinal before it can react.
  3. Using Their Talons: Hawks have powerful talons that they use to grasp and immobilize their prey. The strike from a hawk is swift and precise, usually aimed to incapacitate the bird immediately.
  4. Pursuit: If the initial attack doesn’t succeed, some hawks are persistent and will chase a fleeing bird. Their incredible agility allows them to maneuver through trees and obstacles while maintaining speed.
  5. Opportunistic Hunting: Hawks also take advantage of situations where cardinals are vulnerable, such as when they are distracted during mating rituals or when young, inexperienced birds leave the nest for the first time.
  6. Cutting Off Escape Routes: A hawk may strategically approach its prey in a way that cuts off potential escape routes, effectively cornering the cardinal before striking.

This hunting behavior is not just a matter of sustenance; it’s also a way for the hawk to teach its offspring essential survival skills. Young hawks learn by observing their parents and practicing these tactics until they can fend for themselves.

Species Of Hawks That Eat Cardinals
Image Credit: Allkindza, Canva

Species Of Hawks That Eat Cardinals

There are over 200 species of hawks across the world. But you can’t blame all them as cardinal predators. Only a few species have been seen to prey on cardinals.

Actually, the food habit of hawks depends on different factors, including the variation of species, availability of prey, location, and ecosystem of that area.

Here’s a list of hawk species that eat cardinals:

1. Sharp-Shinned Hawks

Sharp-Shinned Hawks Eat Cardinals

Sharp-shinned hawks eat cardinals. This specie got its name from its flattened, thin ‘shin’ or shanks. They are mostly seen in North America, Alaska, and Canada. Sometimes people mix them up with cooper hawks.

You can recognize them easily as adults as both male and female sharp-shinned hawks have navy blue-grey backs and rusty-barred breasts. They have long bodies with long and narrow tails. The females are usually about one-third larger than the males.

2. Marsh Hawks

Marsh Hawks Eat Cardinals

Marsh hawks are also known as Northern Harrier. They are also cardinal predators. This specie of hawk mostly eats cardinals.

They are mostly seen in Northern South America and Northern Canada. This specie of hawk has long round wings, long tails, and a white patch. The males have a gray back and white breasts, whereas the females are gray.

3. Cooper’s Hawks

Cooper’s Hawks Eat Cardinals

Cooper’s hawks are also known as big blue darters or swift hawks. This specie of hawk is one of the greatest predators of cardinals. They usually prey on small to medium-sized birds, including cardinals.

They are usually seen in Northern America, southern Canada, and Mexico. They have relatively long wings, tails, and thick legs. You can easily recognize them through their blackish crown. Like most other hawk species Copper’s females are also larger than males.

4. Red Tailed Hawks

Red Tailed Hawks Eat Cardinals

Red tailed hawks are occasionally seen to prey on hawks. They don’t eat cardinal as often as Sharp-shinned, Marsh, or Cooper’s hawks.

They are a comparatively larger specie of hawks. Maybe that’s why people often confuse them with eagles.

However, they are usually seen in North America, Northern Canada, Panama, and West India. You can differentiate them from other species as they have a large reddish tail, brown head, and white throat.

5. American Kestrel Hawks

American Kestrel Hawks Eat Cardinals

This species is also called the sparrow hawk, as they are the smallest. They generally can’t eat cardinals as they are bigger than them. It’s a rare occurrence when the American kestrel hawk has preyed on cardinals. Even if they do, it will be a baby cardinal.

They are most common in North America. You can recognize them easily, seeing their slate-blue wings, small head, and black slashes on their face.

Do Hawks Prey Baby Cardinals?

Do Hawks Prey Baby Cardinals
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As hawks don’t usually hunt adult cardinals because of their large size, it’s natural to assume that baby cardinals are hawks’ favorite meal. But the truth is most of the species don’t eat baby cardinals.

However, some species of hawks have been seen to prey on baby cardinals, especially sharp-shinned hawks.

Usually, sharp-shinned hawks prefer to eat small birds. They are considered one of the biggest threats to sparrows, finches, and other songbirds. As baby cardinals are small and easy prey, sharp-shinned hawks can easily hunt them.

Sometimes cooper’s hawks also eat baby cardinals. But it’s not an everyday occurrence.

Do Hawks Eat Cardinal’s Egg?

Do Hawks Eat Cardinals Egg
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Hawks are often seen to snatch a bird’s egg from the nest, no matter which bird’s egg. As hawks fly high and have sharp eyesight, they can easily spot the bird’s nest. With the help of their sharp claws, they can easily do it.

Sometimes hawks are seen waiting on the tree branches for adult cardinals to go out to search for food. When the bird’s nest is empty, they snatch the eggs.

It’s not like only hawks eat cardinal eggs. There’s a long list of birds, animals, and reptiles that eat cardinal eggs. Small mammals like squirrels, shrikes, and chipmunks love cardinal eggs. Birds-owls, Blue jays, and shrikes often eat cardinal eggs. If reptiles get the chance, they also attack baby cardinals and eggs.

Are Hawks The Only Predators That Eats Cardinals?

Are Hawks The Only Predators That Eats Cardinals
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Of course not. In fact, there is a long list of predators that eat cardinals. Mammals, birds, and reptiles, everybody that eats meat, cardinals are on their diet.

Mammals like Cats, Dogs, Foxes, Rodents, Chipmunks, and Squirrels are often seen to attack cardinals and eat them.

Besides hawks, other big birds like owls and shrikes are also threatening to cardinals and their eggs.

Every species of big snake are seen to eat eggs no matter whose egg it is. When the mother cardinal is not in the nest, they prey on the baby cardinals and eggs.

Final Words

Whether hawks will eat cardinals or not depends on a few things. The hawk’s specie is the most important factor here. For instance, Sharp-shinned, Marsh or Cooper’s hawks often prey on and eat hawks. For other species, like Red tailed and American kestrel hawks eating cardinals is a rare occurrence.

Availability of prey is another factor here. Though hawks are seen eating cardinals, they are not hawks’ preferred prey. If there is the availability of other prey, hawks will not target cardinals.

Eco-system and location are also important factors as food habit changes according to it.

Image Credit:

  • (Anita Merrigan)

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