Hawking the Hawks in the Garden

Do You Like Them or Loathe Them?


Do you want to discourage the carnage that results when these sharks of the sky make an appearance? Well, you can’t stop it, but you can make it more difficult for them to be successful predators depending on the variety of hawk.

This area gets the full gamut of NYS hawk and falcon in all four seasons. I get them in my garden because of the very close proximity to the Niagara Gorge and the continuous feeding of their prey, minus the rodent variety hopefully. Many of the birds will overwinter here in Western New York, so hungry they come.

Well, hello beautiful…


Red-tailed Hawk

f10 1/200 ISO 400 (click to enlarge those eyes, they are intense)

From the large Red-tailed, to the Cooper’s, many hawks fly the friendly skies. We have the smaller hawks visit, like the Sharp-shinned to the American Kestrel, a fast and sneaky hunter.


Red-tailed Hawk high in the trees.

f5.6 1/1600 ISO 400 – 400mm zoom

I have the gory photos of hawks making a kill in my yard, long before the shelter plants filled in within the newly designed garden. Birds had not yet had a safe place to retreat since it was a complete redesign.

A Red-tailed surrounded with bright red cardinal feathers, talon deep in blood soaked snow, or the Sharp-shinned feasting on a dismembered dove, were some of the images I shot. When a hawk kills, it is true gore.

The gorge gets the Golden Eagle and also the scavenger birds like the Turkey Vultures. Turkey Vultures have been here, but not the Golden Eagle. The yard is far too small for both to visit with that enormous wing span. The Turkey Vultures were doing a repeated low flyby.


Sharp-shinned Hawk

f5.6 1/1250 ISO 1250

You might have guessed that yard size plays a big part in raptor visits. There have been three Red-tailed hawks in the Black Walnut at one time one lean winter, but that is an oddity. Usually they come singularly and only when really hungry, will they make an attempt where they might sustain injury.


f5.6  1/2000 ISO 280 – 400mm zoom

Once a Red-tailed was battling a squirrel in the pear tree, and had I not intervened, the squirrel would have been toast. Fearing the worst for both parties, I intervened. Afraid the Red-tailed would get a broken wing in the fight that ensued, it was the only option.


Having a yard heavily planted affords the prey a place of safety as explained and showed in the last post. Also noted, there are hawks that can maneuver in tight vegetation. The one you see in this post is the Sharp-shinned hawk, an agile flyer and one that can hunt on the wing.

You see the Sharp-shinned perching in both the pear tree and the French Lilac in photos on various days this past week. A couple of this hawk visit daily and are very comfortable in the yard despite not yet taking a bird here.

I was asked how I get them to land in my pear tree? Well, if you have been following, it is because I pruned large branches for perching and thinned the pear, making for easy landing and take off. You might say I encouraged their visit, but even I was surprised they landed ten feet in front of me. But now I know how to get them in the tree and not on the fence!

So why is this bird not catching food since it has a prime stalking position?

The reason, the tight quarters and all the places the small birds can hide in my yard.

The one bird comes back each day and leaves empty beaked. I did see him catch a sparrow on the wing, so he is successful in my neighbor’s yard. The sparrow was flying to the 90 foot spruce and made its fatal last flight. The winged talons swooped in from above, gripped the sparrow and it was quickly curtains.


Injured Female Cardinal

f6.3 1/1600 ISO 800

One may have captured and lost this cardinal too. As much as I like to believe “my” birds are safe, I am realistic about what they face. This cardinal had her portrait taken in my post on Cardinals because I believe her days were numbered with the injury she sustained, likely from a hawk.


400mm zoom

Hawks target larger birds because there is more reward for the effort. Why risk injury on mere morsels like a sparrow when there are slow-moving doves, cardinals and blue jays about? The hawk above was targeting a jay (yes, she got it). Sorry this was not a better image, the action happens unexpectedly and very fast. I was just happy to get it at all.

This poor girl below, has a leg she cannot bend or bring close to her body. I did not see the Cardinal get attacked, but really feel bad for her.

She pathetically hops along on one leg, dragging the injured leg in a right angle, stationary position. The feet still grasp, so I am unsure of the damage she incurred, but judging by the feathers lost, it really does look like she escaped a talon. I have seen talon damage on the squirrel I mentioned and it looked similar. I did not show the holes she has.


The blue jays will squawk when a raptor is close, then head for cover. Just because the Sharp-shinned hawk can access the shrubs, does not mean that it will be successful. It also needs sufficient flying room, which a heavily planted yard does not afford.

The reason the American Kestrel is an effective hunter is that it snatches sparrow-sized prey from the ground.


Hearing the blue jays give call, the cardinals will head for the nearest densely branched deciduous or coniferous tree.  Below one sits very still. Raptors have great eyesight and notice the most minimal of movement. This cardinal sat in the Viburnum for twelve minutes motionless. I went outside and it would not move, hence the photos from six feet away.


Male Cardinal

f5.6 1/320 ISO 1250

It was feeling much safer with me in the yard than the hawk, yet hopped the post in case. It is not recommended to disturb the birds as they sit motionless because one could force the bird to fly right into danger. But I knew where the hawk went and the cardinal did not.


f5.6 1/500 ISO 1250

The Downy Woodpecker was also caught off guard. What he did, not having time to fly to the Black Walnut, was take refuge in my boxwood. I never saw a woodpecker go into that plant, sparrows and cardinals yes. But honestly no hawk is going to pick off dinner in two foot high boxwood. So, smart move little woodpecker.


Downy Woodpecker

The series of images that follow were taken outside. Moving very slowly and inching toward the hawk is the way to approach the Sharp-shinned. You certainly can’t do this with most hawks. The Red-tailed hawks are notorious for skittishness. I can be a football field away and point the camera and they take off.


Red-tailed Hawk

f5.6 1/1000 ISO 400

The only time they don’t leave is when they are captive, or have downed prey. I went out into the yard to save my ‘pet’ dove one year and the defiant hawk raised its wings at me and hissed. I backed off.  My Akita was let out another time to scare off a Red-tailed and he came back into the house as fast as he went out. This hawk does not like its meal disturbed and puts the skittishness aside.


The Sharp-shinned is a less wary bird as you can see in my images and will sit with me in the yard.


He was in the pear until he finally had enough of me, probably blaming me for his failure to land a meal. He did have plenty of time before I ventured out.


f5.6 1/1600 ISO 1600

See below, this is the look he gave right before he took off. Not as clear as the other images because it was actually too close for the lens, but I just kept pushing the bird to the limit it would endure.


f5.6 1/1600  ISO 1600

Off he goes. How often do you get this view?


f5.6 1/1250 ISO 500

Gimme some tail, bud.


f5.6 1/1250 ISO 500

He was not too scared and only flew twenty more feet to the lilac.  He flew right into a spot with soft, warm light, reflected off the cedar fence. Good birdie!


f5.6 1/1000 ISO 500

The Series:

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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84 Responses to Hawking the Hawks in the Garden

  1. Now this is one of those posts that makes me sad. I hate to think of any animal suffering-truly. The poor cardinal breaks my heart!

  2. Great Post – poor cardinal, but that is the circle of bird life I guess! Birds of prey have there place, especially in keeping the mouse population down. Happy Friday:)

  3. Awesome pictures as usual. I confess that I do like hawks. They are exciting birds to watch. You have documented a lot of really interesting behavior, by both hunter and prey, I hate to see one of my favorite songbirds turned into a meal but that is a harsh part of life in the wild.

    • I love seeing the hawks at the farm chasing down field mice. I rarely have my camera there though due to work, but it is a great place to see the birds. Urban behavior really varies from that in the fields though. It is harder to make a living in the fields for all the creatures. Most people with bird feeders have it set up like a smorgasbord for the hawks with all open lawn turf and an isolated, centrally located feeder. I cannot stress enough how city and suburban folks need to landscape to avoid this behavior. It really is not very natural for songbirds and raptors alike. I realize that the act of feeding birds is unnatural, but at least they have an even chance in a well landscaped yard.

      • Point taken. I think in our yard we avoid the worst problems. Both our feeders are within a few feet of large, dense shrubs, though ideally we’d have some evergreens among the deciduous.

  4. Wow, you certainly have lots of birds of prey in your garden! We have some here, too, but I don’t see them often because the house and the large Oaks keep them hidden. I have seen the Owls, though, and the results of their hunts–rabbits feet, sans any other rabbit body part. Gross, I know, but that’s nature. It’s definitely tough to watch, though.

    • That I do! I can walk half a block and visit them like they visit me. But it is hard to photograph them at the Gorge because of all the trees and the steep terrain. I keep missing owls. Many are at the Gorge and the farm, and I only ever saw one right here in my neighborhood. Maybe it is me not being diligent enough, or maybe because they blend in so well.

  5. alesiablogs says:

    I must say i wish I could take photos like you. You have given me such an appreciation for birds in general and how you captured the essense of their lives even up to the point when you can percieve they are angry when looking at their eyes as was mentioned in a previous post…Just amazing shots.

    • Thank you. Since I have a bird, Creem Cheez the cockatoo, I have learned in the thirty years he was my pet, all the various bird ‘faces’. Birds are very expressive and make no bones about showing displeasure. I see the same expressions on the wild birds as I see on him, and I know what they mean.

  6. This is one of nature’s way, I can never get used to. Seeing two amazing animals becoming hunter and prey…
    Exquisite shots – as always, Donna!

  7. Joe Owens says:

    We have a hawk family in the trees that border our propertyt. I find them an amazing sight and enjoy listening to them and watching them fly across the sky in our neighborhood. I have not seem the carnage you mention, so cannot offer an opinion there.

    • If you are not attracting their prey, you would not see how they go about catching and eating it. Be glad, because hawks are no fun to watch dine. No bird dinners yet this year in my yard. When the season gets in high gear and food is in short supply, I am betting a few songbirds see their last winter.

  8. Incredible shots! I think birds of prey are so majestic and I welcome them in my garden. I would certainly prefer that they go after the voles than song birds but who am I to decide. They usually take out our mourning doves which usually results in a lot of feathers on the ground. Watching them take out a bird is heartbreaking but also very impressive. It happens so quickly. Maybe it is my own justification but I think it is nature’s way of taking out the weaker birds and as a result makes the remaining birds stronger. I agree that the red-tailed hawks are very skittish and harder to photograph. Did you use a tripod or handheld when taking these shots? Your second shot is amazing…the eyes look like glass marbles. The detail is incredible!

    • It is the same here. The mourning doves are the main entree. They are slow when taking flight from the ground, and that is always where they are snatched. That is why I see it in the yard. They down and eat them here. You are right about how impressive their skill is in hunting. I have watched them in the fields/meadows and it is artistry of the sky. The one I showed in a dive was flying like a bullet. I am not sure the prey is always the weakest. I have seen some very healthy looking birds downed. It is just the wrong place at the right time.

      I never use a tripod when shooting birds. Even the Red-tailed portraits were hand held. I need a new tripod if I were to use it for wildlife. I do not have a ball head and rail on mine. You need the quick and easy adjustments to follow the wildlife. I still have the same tripod I had for the F2 in 1981. Professional tripods are expensive, and I can’t decide if I would use it enough. I have one shot of the Red-tailed with me as a reflection in his left eye. I thought it was this image, but when I uploaded it, it was not.

  9. Christy says:

    As you know from my blog I love wildlife. While it’s sad to see, this is Mother Nature at work. We get a lot of hawks in our garden because we have so many birds. I always know when a hawk is around because I hear the squawking and then all of the birds take cover…it’s pretty amazing to watch.

    • I would have guessed you get the hawks too. We as bird lovers do make it easy for them by serving their dinner up in such numbers. I know it is a natural response, but bird feeding is not. There are so many opinions on this, but like I mentioned in the last post, 55.5 million feed the birds. We do it for so many reasons too, only one of which is we feel sorry for them searching for food in winter. Bird count is coming up. I never did it because of the numbers of birds I get. But maybe this year I will give it a try.

  10. Dana S. Hugh says:

    Well…. I like them when they don’t try to eat my doves or little birds that I love.
    Great post, very good shots.

  11. Pat says:

    The sad thing is that I’ve seen more birds taken by neighbors’ pet cats than by hawks.

    • I saw the first sparrow taken by a neighbor’s cat a few days ago. The lazy thing sat and waited on my garage roof for the birds to fly to the garage parapet and land. Up pops this fat lazy cat and snags one. I have two cats, but am not very fond of cats in general. As a dog person, I used to send the dogs out after the city cats in the yard (just to chase them, not catch them), but now I am dogless with two stray felines I brought in from the winter’s cold.

  12. This post was fascinating and so educational for me (and I am in awe of your photography). We see lots of hawks in or near our yard, but somehow I naively thought that their diet was limited to rodents – I had not thought about their attacking other birds. Now I’m especially glad I got rid of my feeder and have tons of places for the birds to hide. Not that the hawks don’t need to eat too…

    • In the fields at the farm, they have so many field mice, it keeps the hawks fat and happy. The farm is a tree and shrub nursery and the rodents girdle the nursery stock, so hawks and other rodent eaters (coyotes, foxes, snakes) are encouraged. Hawks and eagles will eat anything that is small enough and moves I think. I have seen flying (and very scared) rabbits too.

  13. Christy says:

    I just did another post on my blog. It’s about a hawk I saw in the garden today. You know a lot about hawks so I was hoping you could look at it and maybe you would be able to answer the question I put on the post. Thanks for your help!

  14. I love to see hawks on my property. Because of them and the cats, we don’t have bird feeders any more—it evens the playing field somewhat. There is almost always a red-tail around when I am working outside. I like to think it’s the same one year after year and always greet it. We also have a lot of great horned owls

  15. sharon says:

    I have raptors breeding in my yard I love them and they have names…yours sound quite fierce…when i tell mine to move along they will go…..I have seen no carnage..i know they like sqirrels and rodents…that ate injured or stupid..and i know they eat fish too so i dont worry about it

    • You must have tame birds. The Sharp-shinned does not seem so fierce, but then again, but I did see one tear apart a dove. Raptors usually pierce the heart and lungs of their prey with their talons to make the kill, so at least they don’t pluck them alive, but it really is hard to watch.

  16. Marguerite says:

    I only really feel sorry for the birds that get attacked and escape seriously injured, like your cardinal. Everybody has to eat and the hawks are only doing what is normal. In our yard I love to see the hawks and eagles overhead as it means they are usually taking care of mice and voles for me.

    • I like seeing them too. It is a thrill they find their way here and have a stop in the garden. I wish the cardinal did not have to suffer though. It takes her longer to get off the ground, so I doubt she will be here much longer. I am going away and the food stops for 12 days, so I hope she gets along until then.

  17. Marisa says:

    Wonderful photos, Donna. I love all birds and while I hate to see any animal suffer, I think the raptors are magnificent predators. I don’t see any around my garden, but in a previous house I occasionally had visits from a crested hawk (Pacific Baza) who used to make the most noisy crash landings into a small sapling beside my window, and we had a pair of some kind of small raptor who nested on the top of my office building. I would often pass, and occasionally pick up, a beautiful feather from a smaller bird that hadn’t been quite fast enough on my way back to the office after lunch. Anything bigger than a feather, and I would avert my eyes.

    • Might have been a Peregrine falcon. We have them in Buffalo in a highrise that they have a daily cam watching them live. The Crested Hawk is a magnificent looking bird with that distinctive crest. I would love to see one sometime.

  18. We used to have Cooper’s hawks nesting just one lot over and they were amazing to watch. They ate mostly mice, and possibly rats, and I was definitely on the side of the hawks.

  19. Hawks live with us. In the summer, I enjoy watching them glide in the wind currents over head. I hear their call often, though I do not know what they are saying or why. I know when hawk is nearby because the birdfeeder is empty. Ever so often, a hawk will perch right above the bird feeder, maybe 10 feet from the front porch.

    • It is the same here, no birds, likely a hawk is around, but sometimes they get caught off guard, like in my post. They never perched above my feeder. That would be great because it would even be closer to my camera than the pear tree. The Red-tailed are so big, they usually use the fence. I am waiting now that I trimmed the pear for them to use it.

  20. I have a lot of respect for the raptors in my area. I hate to see them pick off the little birds, but they have to eat, too. I’ve seen them fly around a corner and dive into my Rose of Sharon. When they show up, the smaller birds shelter in my giant evergreen Prague viburnums. I’ve never seen a hawk or falcon bother going after them. They’re too densely branched.

    • I also take that attitude too. I know it is a dog eat dog world, and the big dogs are the top dogs too. I love seeing them, but do wish I would see more of them in their habitat. If I could move fast enough, I could follow them home. A half block away is not so far. My problem seeing them at the gorge is not distance but dense tree covering. Even in winter the branches are a tangle of obstruction.

  21. I am always so impressed by the photos and stories you manage to capture. We all benefit from the incredible patience you must have to be able watch them unfold, and from your great skill in capturing them. I don’t have half as much time as I’d like to be out in nature, but at least I can get a little dose here. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I hope my honest assessment of your yearlong visit to Japan was taken with the honesty I experienced in reading. You wrote a wonderful tale and I too felt your horror of eating a lobster while still alive. You have an amazing literary talent to make such a strong reaction in one of your readers.

      • Thanks – your reaction told me that I’d managed to communicate that experience effectively, so am very happy for that. I hope I can open people’s eyes to such things and play a role in stopping them. At the same time, I would hate to be the one to keep you from visiting Japan, as I had 13 years of largely positive experiences in that country. In many ways, I still think of it as home.

  22. Keep these amazing posts and photos coming–please. Have you considered compiling your spell-binding posts into book form? Fascinating pages all! Paula

    • I was considering a free e-book. I can easily make one, but how to make it free for download is my main consideration. Someone has to host the book and I doubt I can find one for free. If I make a pdf of the book, I could put it on the sidebar, but lose the page turning and iPad option. I will find such a service at some point. I thought I could include many tips I have learned behind the camera as an advanced amateur, in the Photoshop ‘darkroom’ as a professional and as a longtime designer and Master Gardener, pretty much tying the art of growing, attracting wildlife and photographing all up in one neat bow.

  23. Hawks are my favorite bird and I cannot wait to capture some good images…fabulous captures Donna. We have just about every bird of prey here even bald eagles…

  24. Reblogged this on Living and Lovin and commented:
    So sad but it is what we are all up against when we try to help our little feathered friends

  25. Hawk is perfect. On the second photo he has completely human eye, slightly offended. 🙂

  26. Beautiful shots! I love when my Cooper’s Hawks pay a visit, but I would prefer they lunch in the neighbor’s yard where I don’t have to see it. We have xeriscape in the backyard, but I am trying to put up a bit of a fortress in the feeder corner for the birds made from pruned branches.

  27. what a delightful post…and the shots are really beautiful…..thanks for making my day!

  28. Carolyn says:

    We have resident hawks that intrigue me… beautiful but a bit frightening. I’ve seen them capture momma birds in mid-flight, papa desperate to rescue his sweetie… but to no avail. Our dove population was out of control a few weeks ago. Not so many now. Oh, we have plenty of shelter… but the doves love to sit in the bare trees and soak in any ounce of sunshine our gray days may provide. I watched as the hawk swiftly flew to capture a dove… talons tightly gripped until the dove rested. What followed was not a pretty sight. My observations are leading me to understand that we can’t just accept the sunny side of nature. We must accept it all… even that which makes us sad.

  29. Stunning work! Thank you for your generous sharing here! Such gorgeous, professional photos!

  30. debsgarden says:

    Wonderful images! Predator birds are thrilling sights in my garden. We have resident Coopers hawks and also barred owls. And now we have a cat, which is maybe the most dangerous predator to the songbirds. It’s all part of the ecosystem. Hopefully, the abundant plantings will give the birds a good chance.

  31. Fossillady says:

    Hello Donna, Well, you certainly have captured the two hawk breeds with amazing photographic skills. Very interesting how they come so near. I rarely see hawks and I live in the woods pretty much. Whatever will happen to the little cardinal I can’t help wonder? Kathi :O)

    • They do come in close when the food is like having their own ‘all you can eat.’ When at the farm it is rare, but I see them in the woods. I can never get a good photo though with all the branches.

  32. Brian Comeau says:

    Donna you just seem to continue to produce amazing images. These are simply wonderful. Such a beautiful (but deadly) creature… Sometimes nature can be so awesome but cruel at the same time…

    • Thank you very much, Brian. I agree with you. Cruel is so relative. I always try to put perspective on it because all of God’s creatures have their place. I like seeing just the good and gentle parts of nature, but often the parts we deem cruel we come face to face with.

  33. Good birdie indeed! Good job Donna on a big collection of wonderful photos. To have that much nature at your fingertips is amazing. I saw a hawk snatch a bird on the wing when we lived in VA, it was an incredible show of Mother Nature. We had an American Kestrel in the backyard last winter, fun to see.

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