In the world, there are over 250-270 species of hawks worldwide, and the birds in the Accipitridae family are all predators. These birds feed on different types of birds, reptiles, and mammals, including voles, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, mice, chipmunks, and squirrels.
Most hawks found in America feed on squirrels, among other small rodents. Red-tailed hawks, Northern Goshawks, Harris’s hawks, Ferruginous, and Harlan’s hawks are among the hawks that prey on squirrels.
The article covers more information on the types of squirrels hawks eat. This information is helpful when covering the topic, what do hawks eat? Therefore, read on.
Types Of Squirrels Consumed by Hawks
Some of the squirrel types that various hawk species hunt includes:
Tree squirrels are types found mostly on trees, such as
1. Eastern gray squirrel
Eastern gray squirrels are natives of North America, found in White oak, red maple, American beech, and sweet gum trees. They are usually gray but sometimes brown. They are prey to Northern Goshawks, Red-tailed, and Cooper’s hawks.
2. Western gray squirrel
The Western gray squirrels occur on the Western coast of the United States in oak woodlands and coniferous forests. These rodents are larger than the Eastern squirrels and have gray fur. They are prey to red-tailed hawks.
3. Fox squirrel
Fox squirrels are found mostly in the eastern parts of the United States and southern parts of Canada in savannah-like habitats. Their fur color varies with species, but the common color is reddish-brown. Their prey includes bobcats, foxes, and birds of prey, like the Red-tailed hawk.
4. Red squirrel
Red squirrels in the United States are found in the northern parts and south into the Appalachian Mountains. They are prey to Northern Goshawks and Cooper’s hawks.
Ground squirrels are the type that majorly lives on or in the ground. They include
1. Thirteen-lined ground squirrel
Also called striped gophers, they are all found in grasslands and prairies in North America. Cooper’s and Red-tailed are the major predators of the thirteen-lined ground squirrels.
2. California ground squirrel
California ground squirrels occur in the Western United States in open areas, including fields and lightly wooded areas. They are prey to various birds of prey, including golden eagles and red-tailed hawks.
3. Rock squirrel
Rock squirrels are natives of Mexico but can be seen along the southern border, in cliffs, canyon walls, and steep rocky hills. Their prey includes ravens, owls, eagles, and hawks, including Harlan’s hawks.
Flying squirrels are types of squirrels capable of grinding with their parachute-like skin. And they are:
1. Northern flying squirrel
Northern flying squirrels are in North America in Coniferous and mixed coniferous forests. Goshawks and red-tailed hawks are among the predators of flying squirrels.
2. Southern flying squirrel
Southern flying squirrels occur in the eastern half of North America in mixed and deciduous woods. Falcons, Red-tailed hawks, and Goshawks are among the birds of prey that hunt the southern flying squirrels.
Hunting Techniques for Capturing Squirrels
Hawks use various techniques to hunt and capture squirrels, including
1. Perch hunting
The perch hunting technique involves the hawk perching while observing the squirrels’ movements and then swooping in and catching it. This technique is more common on ground squirrels and some species of tree squirrels.
2. Pursuit through trees
This hunting method involves the hawk chasing the prey animal through the trees. The technique is commonly used by swift species of hawks, like Cooper’s hawks.
3. Ground hunting
Ground hunting is a technique where the hawk hunts by standing on the ground and striking the squirrel when it’s in range. The technique is commonly used by Ferruginous hawks when hunting prey animals like ground squirrels.
4. Aerial attacks
The aerial attacks technique involves the bird soaring high while scanning the fields for a prey animal, then diving and catching it. This technique is commonly used on ground squirrels out in open savannah-like habitats.
5. Cooperative hunting
Cooperative hunting involves two to six hawks hunting together, a common habit in Harris’ hawks in New Mexico. While the group is mostly for hunting larger prey, it is used on squirrels where they’re scarce.
Adaptations For Capturing And Consuming Squirrels
Various behavioral and physical adaptations help the Hawks hunt and catch squirrels.
The physical adaptations include:
Hawks use their talons to grasp and hold prey as they disassemble and eat it. Their talons are larger than most birds allowing them to hold large prey animals.
Hawks’ beaks are sharp and hooked, which allows them to pierce, skin, and tear their prey to swallowable chunks.
Hawks’ vision is many times better than that of humans, which helps them spot and discern prey animals distances away. Research by Lund University shows Harris’ hawk has the best color vision of all animals ever investigated.
4. Flight agility
Most hawk species are agile flyers, which allows them to chase prey through dense forests and urban centers.
The behavioral adaptations of Hawks that make them better hunters include
1. Stealth and surprise
Hawks can stealthily approach prey without being detected and catch it, Sharp-shinned hawks leading in that front. They also use the element of surprise on their prey by swooping in quickly and catching them unexpectedly.
Hawks are patient when hunting and steadily watch and wait for the prey animals to approach, a common hunting technique in Ridgway’s hawks. The patience allows them to catch prey at close range.
3. Persistence in chasing prey
Hawks persistently chase after their prey, especially in open grounds with fewer hiding places. This persistence allows them to wear down the prey animal and eat it.
Impact Of Squirrel Consumption On Ecosystems
Squirrels hunting by hawks and other predators have an impact on the ecosystem.
1. Population control of squirrel species
Hunting keeps the squirrel’s population in check and prevents overpopulation. If these rodents multiply, they can deplete crops and damage property leading to losses.
2. Effects on seed dispersal and forest regeneration
Squirrels are crucial to forest growth as they help disperse seeds when they burrow them. Therefore, hunting them can negatively impact forest regeneration by reducing seed dispersal.
3. Impact on the food web
Squirrels also play an important role in the food web by gathering seeds that grow to provide habitats to other prey animals. This increases the number of predators and prey in the food web.
Human Impact on Hawks’ Squirrel Predation
Humans impact the hawk’s predation on squirrels in several ways, including
1. Urbanization and habitat fragmentation
Urbanization has led to the hawks losing their native habitats where they breed and hunt. This loss can be complete or partial in instances where urbanization leaves unconnected areas.
The squirrels also lose their habitats meaning both hawks and squirrels lose their food sources. Urbanization can lead to a population decrease for both predators and prey.
Habitat loss and fragmentation have led the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to seek public input on western gray squirrels’ conservation status.
2. Pollution and pesticides
Pesticide use has also led to the poisoning of hawks and squirrels, leading to deaths. Once a rodent dies from pesticide effects, birds of prey will swoop in and eat it and in turn, get sick. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Services, Raptors are vulnerable to the negative impacts of rodenticides.
Another effect is indirect, where the Hawks lack prey since most are driven away or dead through pollution and poisoning. The hawk population reduces leading to an imbalance in the ecosystem.
3. Climate change
Climate change has led to squirrels moving out of their usual habitats in search of better ones. This scenario has led to predators in that area going hungry, forcing them to move too or die.
Humans can make various conservation efforts to help keep both hawks and squirrels fed. They include
1. Habitat restoration and preservation
This conservation effort involves restoring native habitats to bring back the squirrel and hawk populations. Habitat restoration includes tree planting and forest rewilding.
2. Education and awareness campaigns
Education and awareness are among the most effective conservation efforts as more people become aware and change. For instance, educating farmers against using pesticides can reduce the number of rodents killed.
3. Balancing squirrel and bird populations in urban areas
Another effort is balancing the number of squirrels and predator birds in urban areas. Research shows the squirrel population in urban centers increases with the human population. Therefore, you can attract hawks through prey animals and provide breeding platforms for them to balance the population.
Hawks can and do feed on squirrels, which are among the many rodents they eat. Red-tailed hawks and Harris’s hawks are among the common ones, preying on varieties of rodent species, like tree and ground squirrels.
Both animals are crucial to the ecosystem and humans have an impact on them through things like urbanization. In this case, habitat restoration and education are among the conservation efforts.