Feb 05 2008

Hawk eats hawk

Published by at 8:27 pm under Birds of Prey

Red-tailed Hawk eating Coopers Hawk, Downtown Pittsburgh (photo by Mark Wolz)If you’re squeamish, close your eyes and go to another website right now.  Otherwise, read on.

Yesterday I learned about a bird incident that happened last Saturday in downtown Pittsburgh across the street from the Westin Convention Center Hotel. 

Mark Wolz, who works at the hotel, reported it to the National Aviary.  His pictures and story were so fascinating that my friends at the Aviary shared it with me. 

According to Mark, patrons of the Tonic Restaurant said the hawks were chasing and ran into the restaurant window.  By the time he saw the birds, the red-tailed hawk had killed the immature coopers hawk and was beginning to eat. 

As you can see from Mark’s picture, the red-tail was very hungry.  Even so, people could get quite close.

Normally red-tails pick up their prey and carry it to a tree to eat.  Perhaps the prey was too heavy or the red-tail decided it would be too hard to move with so many people nearby.  Instead he spread his wings and mantled over his meal.  This made him look large and fierce. 

After the red-tail finished eating, he flew to perch on a street light at 10th and Penn.  At that point another hawk dove and screeched at the red-tail. 

Mark said the attacker had his wings tucked back like a jet fighter as he dove at the red-tailed hawk.  That shape sounds like a peregrine to me and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one of the Gulf Tower peregrines.  Peregrines defend their territory against red-tailed hawks and the Gulf Tower is right next door.

Hawks don’t usually eat other hawks so I wonder…  What led up to this?  Was the coopers hawk weak and picked out as a potential meal?  Did the red-tail merely intend to harrass the coopers but decided to take advantage of a stunned foe?  Who was the final attacking hawk?  Was it one of the Gulf Tower peregrines?

The more I watch birds, the more I’m amazed by what they do.

(photo by Mark Wolz)

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Hawk eats hawk”

  1. angelon 05 Mar 2008 at 9:17 am

    This is amazing! I also am “addicted” to watching and the Red-tails are my favorite. I am constantly amazed at the number of birds in urban settings and the power and beauty of this species. I have tracked a pair in Frick park for several years and watch daily for signs of new nesting activity. This website great and I look forward to following the peregrines this spring.

  2. Trishon 12 Feb 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Oh interesting…I didn’t think hawks ate other hawks, but I saw a hawk on the side of the highway eating another hawk. My daughter and I were shocked. But the scene looked very much like the picture above.

  3. Pam Ierubinoon 18 May 2013 at 5:22 pm

    I came home from shopping to find a very large Red-tailed Hawk on my front lawn eating what I think was another type of hawk, it was totally unrecognizable but the pile of feathers left made me think it may have been a juvenile.

  4. Susan Wilkinson 09 Jan 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Thank you for this article. During the recent frigid spell, I heard squirrels making their danger noises and looked out to find a red-tailed hawk in my lower yard. It was on the ground ripping the feathers out of something which I assumed was one of the birds from my feeders. Eventually it flew into one of the nearby trees and I eventually went down to see what had met its demise. To my surprise, I found the body of a hawk. The head was missing but I got the impression from the rest of the body that it was a Cooper’s hawk. Hard to say from what was left though. So it had me wondering if hawks actually do eat other hawks and now I know they do.

  5. Carolyn Gon 30 Jan 2014 at 11:09 am

    Something similar just happened at my home an hour ago. A Cooper’s hawk hit a second floor window on the back of the house and landed on the roof of our one-story kitchen addition. I went out on the deck and the hawk, which was spread-winged on the snow, panicked and flew low across our backyard fence into the neighbor’s backyard. I got a very good up close look at it and could tell it was a Coop. By its flight it appeared to be injured. To my surprise it was followed by a second larger hawk that must have been in the tree right beside our house. I ran outside and could see the injured hawk on the ground in the snow and the other hawk perched on a picnic table nearby. I called animal rescue, then went around and into the neighbor’s yard to prevent some local cats from possibly attacking the hawk on the ground. To my surprise, by the time I got there, the uninjured hawk had flown to the ground and was standing beside or possibly over the injured hawk. Then the larger hawk grabbed the injured bird in its talons and flew off! The injured bird hung loosely as if dead. Left behind in the snow was a trail of wing beat impressions that went over to and under a nearby shrub. In addition there were scattered feathers and feather clumps with skin attached. I wasn’t able to positively identify the second hawk but since we have red tails in the neighborhood all year long, I suspect that’s what I saw. Reading your account and seeing the photo convinced me that what I witnessed was hawk on hawk predation.

  6. Kate St. Johnon 30 Jan 2014 at 11:50 am

    Carolyn G, what an amazing story! Thanks for sharing

  7. John Ricketsonon 10 Feb 2014 at 10:27 am

    I saw something similar yesterday near Macon, GA. The red tail hawks were raising hell and diving at each other in the trees behind my home where I overlook a hardwood bottom and a creek. An hour later I walked out of my basement office to stretch and saw a white spot on the ground across the creek. When I went to see what it was, I surprised a big red tail hawk and he flew off with something in his talons. When I got closer to the white spot where the hawk had been sitting, I saw that the white spot was actually a pile of feathers and body parts from another red tail hawk. I found this site when I searched to see if anyone else had ever known this to happen. Wow! I have always watched them act in a sociable manner, hunting in pairs and feeding on squirrels, but never attacking each other.

  8. Daveon 22 Jul 2014 at 10:37 am

    I just happened in my back yard too! I have never seen more than one hawk at a time and then not very often. I’m in Des Plaines, Il close to O’hare Airport. Reading the morning paper at about 8:30am I heard a loud “thunk” against the kitchen window. I knew some poor bird had hit the glass. I hoped he was OK but didn’t want to look. Ten minutes later I was in the kitchen and there it was. Right near the window, a hawk eating another hawk! Sorry bird lovers, I don’t know what type of hawk it was but they were both clearly the same type. The bird that hit the window must have been dead or injured and the other one was making the best of it. I do not know if this was an attack or an accident.

  9. Kate St. Johnon 22 Jul 2014 at 11:54 am

    Dave, I bet the hawk that hit the window was being chased by the one that ate it. The window was an unlucky break for the dead one.

  10. Lori McQuaigon 27 Jul 2014 at 6:47 pm

    We had a pair of cooper’s hawks which nested in the top of a white pine in our back yard this year. There were four eggs which hatched from that nest and what a racket they made! One day recently we were in the yard watching one of the juveniles which was perched on the branch of the tree and it swooped down to attack something in the yard next door. We went to see what it successfully captured and it was one of the other nestlings! And then there were three….. I didn’t think that hawks would eat their own siblings. (nest mates, whatever)

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