We see hawks in the back garden, but usually they are perched on a distant branch, or sometimes they come swiftly gliding through, hoping to snatch some unfortunate smaller bird.


But yesterday there was a rather large hawk perched first on our fence, and then on a gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), looking to all the world as if she owned the place. Usually when some exciting bird appears, I run to alert Judy or get the camera myself, returning just as the guest of honor flies off.

This time, however, she was still perching calmly when I returned with the camera. In fact, I’d say she must have sat there, unperturbed, for a good 15 or 20 minutes.


I’m pretty sure she was a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. I say she because of her size – the males are smaller.

Cooper’s Hawks live year round in the Chicago area. They are woodland raptors, though they have made themselves at home in leafy suburbs. Their prey consists of medium-sized birds like mourning doves and starlings, which they are welcome to as far as I am concerned.

Sad to say they will also eat robins, flickers, bluejays, and many other birds. They also hunt rodents like squirrels, rabbits, mice, and chipmunks. This particular Cooper’s Hawk seemed to be intently scanning the ground for any such four-legged meals. Eventually, she flew away with empty talons.


No doubt our bird feeders made our garden attractive to this Cooper’s Hawk. The website All About Birds advises us to remove feeders for a few days in order to encourage raptors to move on.


I don’t do this, however. Hawks have to eat too, and they are exciting to have around.

Do hawks or other raptors make an appearance in your garden, and do they just rush through or sit and stay a while?

52 Comments on “Hawk in the Back Garden”

  1. Yes, we have them frequently and I do enjoy seeing them up close, though my feeder visitors do not. They have taken some birds but alas, never our extremely destructive and greedy chipmunks. They are welcome to those.

  2. I agree that it is fun watching a Cooper’s Hawk hunt in the garden. I watched a juvenile chase a squirrel around and around our Ash Tree. It was hilarious. That squirrel gave the CH a hard time until it gave up. Another time I saw a CH climbing all over a pile of sticks I had in the garden trying to get house sparrows or mice. I figured bother were in that pile. I have also seen them dive into a prickly shrub after their prey. They often fail their hunt. It is spectacular to see them actually get something. I always cringe when its prey is one of my favorite birds.

  3. Some years ago, I had a bird feeder in the front yard, and there were occasional piles of feathers beneath it. I never could catch the culprit in the act, until the day I finally spotted a hawk — probably either a Cooper’s or sharp-shinned — perched on the rooftop luggage rack of a neighbor’s Ford Explorer. From there, he had a straight shot to the bird feeder from his spot: far enough away to remain unnoticed by some birds, but close enough to nail dinner from time to time.

  4. There are birds of prey that visit my yard daily because of the bird feeder I keep in the dogwood. Over the years I have moved the feeder a bit to make it more difficult for the hawk to grab lunch. She has to work at it but it’s not impossible. Plus, doing that gives the smaller birds more time to dart to safety. I don’t remove it, not even for a few days, because, as you said, hawks have to eat too. I don’t want to watch the catch or the meal but I accept how things work in nature.

    Once or twice a week there are small circles of feathers in the yard. Only on very rare occasions do I find anything else left behind and must assume that the hawk was interrupted mid-meal. They are very thorough at consuming their catches.

    I also have several squirrels that visit my yard every day. I worry about the hawks grabbing a juvenile squirrel but so far have not witnessed that.

    Several years ago I watched a humorous interaction play out between ‘my’ resident hawk and oldest yard squirrel. The hawk was perched on the top of the 6’ wooden privacy fence, watching the yard intently. The squirrel came running across the top of the fence and I cringed, anticipating a rough encounter. The squirrel stopped about 2’ from the hawk, stood up and chittered at the hawk. The hawk flew straight up about 4’, the squirrel ran underneath it, and the hawk settled back down in the same spot. The squirrel continued along the fence to the crabapple tree, up high to the electrical lines that run along the alley, across the back of the yard, down the mulberry and through the yard to the dogwood where it waited a few minutes before climbing into the bird feeder. The hawk stayed put, the squirrel had lunch and left, running through the yard a different way and 30 minutes later I returned to chores. Later that day I found a small circle of feathers at the fence but no fur. I saw both the hawk and the squirrel (identifiable by a small white patch on it’s forehead) later that week and many more times that summer and autumn. They must have had an agreement to coexist in my yard. 🙂

  5. Great photos of “your” hawk! How nice of her to pose for a lengthy time. I had a sharp-shinned hawk land on the kitchen window box recently. Fortunately I was at the kitchen sink so I got to have a good close-up look. It ultimately nabbed a sparrow for breakfast. The feeder sits about 6-8′ away from the house. I, like you, agree that hawks need to eat too! And the sparrow population could use some culling. I see a pair of sharp-shinned hawks regularly, they are part of our neighborhood. Beautiful birds!

  6. I get Coopers Hawks frequently at my bird feeder. It is, after all, a bird feeder and the hawk is a bird. I had a neighbor who let a chicken have the run of my garden. As you may know, chickens like to scratch areas to lie in thereby uprooting young transplants. I warned my neighbor about the hawk.
    One day I saw chicken feathers all over my yard and found the half-eaten carcass with a string of developing eggs showing. I called my wife to witness this interesting scene. She came out and pointed above my head. There sat the hawk no more than 10 feet from me looking intently. I guess it came back for seconds.

  7. Great photos of the Coopers Hawk, I haven’t seen one close up like that. There is something quite regal about them. Interesting to read that they have moved into the leafy suburbs of Chicago……. I hope they can help by hunting down a rodent or two around the suburbs in return for water and food. (I’m never happy to see little birds being taken, however, I know that is nature’s way.)

  8. It thrills me to see raptors in the garden. A neighbor of mine has nearly an acre in garden, with a large birdbath~she tells me you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a red-tailed hawk bathe in a birdbath! 🙂

  9. How nice to get such a good long look at her. Lovely photos. We get a lot of buzzards and kestrels hunting mice in the garden but rarely near enough to the house to upset nesting birds in spring. If one lands on the barn it goes quiet in the yard as everyone takes cover!

  10. She’s a beauty. We have been having a red tailed hawk eyeing our property lately. I hear it’s screams as it soars over the lake looking for dinner. Hopefully our resident birds such as cardinals, blue-jays and wrens have all evaded it, but like you I haven’t removed the feeders. I agree, they have to eat too.

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