Do Owls Eat Hawks?

With their uncanny fearlessness and nocturnal habits, owls are anything but predictable.

They have gripping talons and flesh-tearing beaks.

Owls can attack any animal at any given time. 

If given the opportunity, an owl will likely eat a hawk.

That said, owls don’t always go through the trouble of hunting and eating a hawk. 

Now, this answer may have left you with even more queries than before.

So, let’s ask again:

Can Owls Eat Hawks? (Answered In Detail) 

Though they normally can, however, it also depends on the owl species.

You see, there are more than 225 species of owls and about 270 species of hawks.

Since all these species vary in size and stamina as well as their geographical location, It is hard to predict the outcome of a random interaction between an owl and a hawk.

For instance, a sparrowhawk weighs about 0.2kg and can grow as tall as 13 inches with a wingspan of 0.6m wide.

It can fly through trees at 30-40km/hour, with short bursts of 50-60km/hour. 

Meanwhile, a Great Horned Owl is about 1.4kgs in weight and is about 24 inches tall while boosting a 1.5m wide wingspan.

It can fly about 30 km/hour but can exert a 200-psi pressure through its grip. 

If a great horned owl were to try and eat a sparrowhawk, it would struggle to catch one.

However, if grabbed, the owl will surely devour that hawk.

Since an owl’s size decides its gripping strength, and by extension, its ability to overpower a smaller hawk.

Therefore,

As a rule of thumb, any owl can hunt and eat a hawk smaller than itself.

Still, size alone is not sufficient to explain an owl’s tendency to eat another raptor.

Hawks are neither timid nor slow ground-dwelling creatures.

So,

The ability of an owl to eat any hawk boils down its size, strength, age, agility, as well as its circumstances.  

Ironically, if all these factors incline in a hawk’s favor, the tables will turn and an hawk will eat an owl – its supposed predator.

A better approach would be questioning if a moderate-sized owl, say a great horned owl, can eat a hawk of comparable size like a red-tailed hawk. 

But this also means we need to evaluate if the hawk will fight back and eat a hungry owl.

Therefore, the best way is to compare the hunting tools as well as strategies of the two birds in combat.

I present to you a humble attempt at understanding this interaction:

Trait/Ability Owl Hawk Remarks
Vision Owls have the biggest eyes for any bird, about the size of human eyes. 

Their tube-shaped eyes allow them to focus more. While they cannot move their eyes, they can see everywhere as they can rotate their heads to 270 degrees.

They have a reflective retina along with a high ratio of cones to rod cells.

Therefore, owl eyes can capture maximum light. 

Hawks have large eyes, but smaller than owl eyes.

 

Their round eyes are too heavy to move. However, hawks can rotate their heads to 180 degrees.

Their retina is not reflective and they have a rather normal cone to rod cell ratio. Therefore, hawks can 

see more vivid colors and even in low-light.

  1. Owls can see even during the night. But hawks can see more colors and therefore, more details.
  2. Owls can easily hunt any owl during the night as hawks cannot see in the dark.
  3. During bright daylight,  an owl may have to partially close its eyes to get moderate light within.
Hearing Owls’ parabolic ears are located in different heights. Their facial indents also increase sound intake. Therefore, owls can hear the slightest of motion. Hawks have ears located at the same height. Therefore, they have moderate hearing capacity. Owls can better hear an approaching hawk. 
Feathers and Wings Owls have serrated feathers with thick and heavy textures. This allows them mute but limited flight capacity. Hawks have light and broad feathers that allow them to migrate great distances. 

However, these produce minute fluttering sounds.

Owls are sneakier than hawks.
Agility An owl’s body is not much streamlined. Also, they have thick and heavy feathers. Therefore, an owl can fly only as fast as 65km/hour. A hawk has a streamlined body and it can even turn its body into a teardrop shape. Therefore, an average hawk can fly at about 120km/hour and dive at 150km/hour.  Hawks are faster than owls. Therefore, they can run away if given a chance.
Feet and Talons Unlike most raptors, owls have different feet structure. Owls can use their feet with three-toes in front and one in the back. However, they can also use their feet with two toes in front and two in the back.

Therefore, they have an even footing that increases the strength of their grip.

Furthermore, their talons are long enough to pierce even a human skull.

Hawks have can use their feet in only three toes in front and one in back.

They also possess sharp and flesh-tearing talons.

Owls have a stronger grip compared to hawks.
Beaks Short downward, but piercing beaks.

Owls can still swallow small animals whole.

Longer, wider, hooked, and powerful beaks.

Hawks usually eat small chunks.

Both beaks seem to have similar advantages.
Hunting Owls hunt during the night by knocking down their victim, paralyzing by snapping the spine, crushing with talons, and then, eating on the spot while the victim is still struggling. Dive directly from above, grab the victim, crush it to partially kill, then take it to their nest, and then eat it. Both methods are equally deadly.
Judgement Ability and Fear Tolerance Owl’s brain space is limited because of oversized eyes. Therefore, their brains are wired for hunting and not thinking.

Therefore, owls can take on all kinds of challenges without measuring the pros and cons.

Hawks have the most developed brain for any raptor. Therefore, they can analyze the consequences of their actions. And so, they avoid unnecessary fights. Owls cannot feel much fear and will take on fights with hawks twice their size.

With all these traits in mind, one can make an educated guess and claim:

Owls can normally attack and eat Hawks of their comparable size.

Despite all this, owls are rarely reported to eat adult hawks.

It’s almost as if the birds live in some harmony.

Here’s a related article I think you’ll find interesting Do Hawks Eat Owls?

So, you may be wondering:

Do Owls Get Along With Hawks?

Well, they don’t.

But if by that you mean coexisting in the same environment, then they do get along. 

That said, hawks and owls hate each other to the point they have genetically imprinted on each other.

If a hawk has never seen an owl before, it will instantly recognize one and show its distaste.

The same is true for owls.

In fact, owls frequently take over hawk nests, instead of building new ones. 

Owls’ first meal in their new nest is usually the previous nest residents – the Hawks

Do Owls Eat Hawks?

Figure:1: representing how owls are the most deadly avian assassins

Though owls also actively hunt for hawk babies, hawks return the favor by consuming a whole clutch of owlets, whenever they happen to stumble upon an owl nest.

Still, the low frequency of ‘owls eating hawks’ indicates that these birds are getting along.

However, it’s just some false positive.

How so?

Well, ornithologists describe this anomaly in stats with the following reasons:

1. Different Activity Hours

Hawks are diurnal birds that start hunting with dawn but end chase by dusk.

Meanwhile, owls are nocturnal beings that initiate hunting at dusk and continue their killing spree till dawn.  

Owls and Hawks have only a limited time frame to interact with each other.

It’s as if nature itself divided up their regimes.

More precisely, Hawks rule days while owls govern nights.

So it would be quite remarkable that these birds find the time to fight and eat each other.

2. Availability Of Prey

Since both hawks and owls have a wide variety to eat, from small lizards to gophers and rabbits.

This means hunting for another raptor seems like a waste of energy. 

However, owls are unpredictable creatures that can hunt anyone in the darkness of the night. 

Hawks tend to deliberately avoid interacting with owls.

Thus, owls taking out the time to eat a hawk is an exceptional feat.

3. Unnecessary Disputes

In the wild, injuries often get infested and cause death.

Most animals including hawks avoid unnecessary disputes.

In fact, only nesting or territorial hawks willingly fight an owl.

However, owls lack a dorsal ventricular ridge that is involved in decision-making.

Therefore, owls cannot analyze situations or feel fear of consequences. 

Owls often take on potentially losing fights, they even try to eat hawks twice their size.

Despite all these reasons, owls take the time to eat hawks.

This shows that owls do attack hawks whenever they find any chance. 

So, one can claim that:

Hawks and owls don’t get along, but they inhabit similar habitats.

Still, hawks have been used as symbols of spiritual and physical strength.

So the idea of a hawk getting eaten is an unsettling one. 

What Eats Hawks In The Wild? 

Well, anyone who can.

You see, the wild represents all the harshness and struggles of the living.

Every single day is a new war for survival which means all animals do whatever they must to pull through.

But,

Even the strictly herbivore animals can occasionally become carnivorous to avoid malnutrition. 

For instance, deers have been reported to chew down sparrows that sit near their mouth.

In fact, some deer actively hunt for blackbirds sitting on the ground.

Since fresh meat is rare, most animals don’t refuse a hot and easy meal. 

Hunting a hawk is no easy task!

Ornithologists suggest that a hawk is most vulnerable during its first year.

Most eggs and hatchlings don’t even survive two months.

Though once a hawk reaches one year of age, it is experienced and old enough to avoid predators.

Most hawk hunts happen if a hawk is:

  1. Too young and inexperienced to fight back.
  2. Too old and weak to move away from its predator.
  3. Injured or suffering from some disease.
  4. Too bold or territorial to swallow its pride and quit an unnecessary hunt. 

So what animals eat hawks?

Carry on reading to find out

What Animals Eat Hawks?

No sane animal seeks out hawks as its staple diet.

However, the following animals have been reported to eat a hawk:

Predator Typical Circumstances Details/Remarks
Owls Competing for the same prey, or territorial issues.

Sometimes pick a fight without any reason.

Often occupy hawk nests and eat the resident family. 

Barred owls and Great Horned owls are the most common hawk predators.

Larger Hawks Competition, Territorial disputes, lack of Prey. Ferruginous hawks, red-tailed hawks, and golden hawks often eat other younger hawks.
Eagles Territorial disputes Typically hawks avoid eagles.
Corvids Bullying and territorial disputes. Crows mob out hawks. However, they steal hawk eggs and hatchlings whenever they find an unattended nest.
Snakes Happens when snakes reach a nest or when a hawk tries to eat the snake. Hawks often try to eat snakes. However, a snake can constrict a hawk to death.

Snakes often steal hawk eggs.

Raccoons Happens when a raccoon climbs up a tree to eat hawk babies. Such raccoons often eat hawk babies. Later, they get eaten by the mother hawk.
Coyotes When a hawk gets injured. Rarely reported.
Foxes Eat both hawk eggs and hatchlings. Rarely happens.

Though humans don’t eat hawks, they are the biggest threat to them. 

Several hawk species have become endangered and keep dying because of human-caused habitat destruction, electrocution, car collisions, poisoning, and pollution.

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