How do I Keep Birds of Prey Away from My Bird Feeders?

Many people enjoy seeing magnificently wild raptors visiting their yards. But others don’t want to invite songbirds to their feeders only to be attacked. During migration, individual hawks and other birds of prey may appear at a feeder for only a few minutes, and there’s little anyone can do to discourage them. During winter, a bird of prey may take up more permanent residence in a neighborhood, visiting a feeding station a few times every day or every week. During the breeding season, a pair of raptors may become even more regular visitors. Birds of prey that typically visit backyard bird feeders include Sharp-shinned Hawks (Accipiter striatus), Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii), Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), Merlins (Falco columbarius), American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) and Northern Shrikes (Lanius excubitor)- a predatory songbird. While we want to keep our backyard birds safe remember this is a natural and necessary part of the ecosystem.

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Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Left: Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) Right: Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), Photo by Kristen Martyn

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) Merlin (Falco columbarius)

Left: American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) Right: Merlin (Falco columbarius), Photo by Kristen Martyn

Here are our 4 Rules for Keeping Birds of Prey Away from Bird Feeders:

1. Provide Shelter: Providing natural cover for small birds is the best way to protect them from hawk attacks. Dense trees, shrubbery and brush piles are all suitable, and shelter should be within 10 feet of bird feeders so small birds can reach it quickly when they feel threatened. To make landscaping do double duty, choose native plants that provide seeds or fruits for the birds and they will be able to feed in the cover and in complete safety.

2. Shield Feeders: Place bird feeders in covered areas such as under an awning or hanging from lower tree branches where the canopy will prevent hawks from seeing available prey. Alternatively, covered platform feeders can provide some visual shielding from circling hawks.

3. 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 or feeding birds on the ground to minimize a hawk’s success.

4. If Worse Comes to Worse Remove Feeders: If hawks are still a menace to your backyard birds, remove all bird feeders and cease feeding the birds for a few days to a week. After a few days, the hawk will move on to different hunting grounds but the smaller birds will quickly return when you resume feeding. The hawk may return as well, but generally it will take longer for a hawk to rediscover a good hunting area.

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