Hawk eats hawk

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)

32 thoughts on “Hawk eats hawk

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

    1. I live in the Buffalo area. My wife and I pulled into our driveway in February. We saw movement on our front porch and saw a red tail standing on a smaller hawk, pulling it’s feathers out. We tried chasing the red away but it dragged the other hawk into our bushes. I grabbed a shovel and scared off the red. The smaller hawk was still living. I called the local SPCA wildlife unit. They couldn’t send someone out. So I grabbed a towel and carefully picked up the bird and put in a box. I drove it to the SPCA. There was a vet there. We were happy. We called a few days later and they told us. It was eating n looking okay. But the next day it died. I asked myself if I should of interfered at all.

    2. Chris, I agree in your thought about wondering if you should have saved it. The big hawk has to eat; it would have suffered a bit searching for another prey item. If the prey is at the plucking stage it is very bad news for its chance of survival.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. Dave, I bet the hawk that hit the window was a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk. The window was an unlucky break for the dead one.

  8. 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)

    1. That IS crazy. I am reading this after witnessing a Cooper’s Hawk swoop down and attack one of the pair of Passenger Pigeons that nests daily on my deck. Okay, okay- they are Mourning Doves. ? Anyway, it was so upsetting, and continues to be, because these doves and a third child or friend, had just mograted back for the season, and I was so excited to see them. The other dove with them, must be the juvenile that was with them all last Summer. THere is the interesting part:

      I watched the hawk grab the female and start to squeeze her on the ground, she was moving and fighting and he swooped towards the window, which birds never slam into, and slammed her into it. He then swooped up to my blanket porch. I swear the whole thing looked volitional. I have the full impression of the dove on my window!

    2. Heather, yes Coopers hawks often nab mourning doves because they’re easy to catch.

      I believe the hawk slammed into your window because it was in a rush and didn’t see the glass but instead (perhaps) saw the reflection of a tree and thought it could perch on what it saw.

      Many birds, including Coopers hawks, die each year by hitting windows and glass buildings.

  9. over here in scotland foods getting so scarce they are turning to cannibalism, sparrowhawks killing kestrels etc, probably why the songbirds like blackbirds and thrushes are so scarce

  10. Glad I read this article too. I just witnessed a Red Tail Hawk attacking another Red Tail in my yard in East Orlando Florida. At first my husband thought that they were mating but, after I caught a glimpse, I realized one Red Tail had another one pinned to the ground and when I seen the white feathers starting to be plucked, I rushed over and saved the underdog. The one that was being attacked was definitely able to fly away and did not seem to be badly hurt at all. Thank goodness!!!!I have witnessed other large predatory birds mating before, which was very cool by the way, and I am 99% positive this was not the situation at hand.
    But…if they were just getting a little rough with each other, I will be sure to apologize next time I see the large male =) he lives here. I was just stunned to see this but, glad I could share the info like the people above.

  11. I was just wondering if it’s true that a hawk will attack humans for walking under,near,past or on the same side of the street where hawk has its nest if they will attack humans? I was told by someone that they will attack humans and especially young children. I know that a crow will attack humans for walking past, under a tree where they have a nest.

  12. My husband witnessed the same thing a couple of weeks ago. He looked out the window and there was one Red Tailed Hawk on top of another one. The one on the bottom was on its back, wings spread and the one on top had its wings spread. He hurried outside and interrupted what? Mating? A territorial altercation? Both hawks flew away when he approached. We have a pair that hunt together and just before this happened we saw them chasing a third hawk. We love our birds and he said this was so hard to see.

  13. I live in Orange County California. We have Red tail hawks that nest in tree filled our back yard. We also have a coopers hawk that is in the area. One evening the two red tails got into it with the coopers hawk. The Coopers was chasing the red tails. . Trees were so thick, I am not sure what happened. But that evening, all the birds in the area were acting odd. For the next four days, a lone red tail made distress calls most the day. Following a circlular pattern from tree to tree . It looked like a juveille red tail. I assumed the Coopers killed one of the red tails ( mate or parent?) . The cooper comes back now and then. The red tail, eventually went away.

  14. Watched a pair of redtail Hawks hunting moles together on the ground. They were about 10 ft apart and it appeared one would stomp foot and the other waited for moles to move. Really interesting.

  15. Yesterday while several of us were conducting the Christmas Bird Count in California we came upon an adult red-tail fighting with an adult Red-shouldered Hawk on the road. Eventually the red-tail killed the red-shoulder. Shortly thereafter a vehicle came along towards us and flushed the red-tail off the road. The red-tail attempted to take the red-shoulder with it but was forced to drop it to get away.

  16. The last few days I have had a red tailed with many crows chasing it Near my yard I also noticed a what I think is a Cooper’s hawk diving at him repeatedly and make a sort of laughing noise, I believe both the crow and cooper have nest nearby

  17. Hawks eat other hawks. They’ll eat any birds, rodents, etc that they can catch and are hungry for. Falconry is hunting with birds of prey in the pursuit of quarry.

  18. I live in Northern California, Napa Valley area. Today I walked out my front door and a hawk flew out of the garden next to the door. It flew to my neighbors fence and sat there for a considerable time. When I looked down to where the bird took off I found the body of another hawk. The scene looked just like the picture above. Wanting to know if hawks do indeed kill and eat other hawks I googled and found this site. Thank you for answering my question – everyone.

  19. I was playing golf the other day and saw several hawks diving at the green we were playing to. When we got to the green I noticed a hawk on the next tee and it looked exactly like the above photo. It had its wings spread and was sitting on and eating something. By the time we were moving to the tee the hawk picked up his prey and flew to a nearby tree. We drove closer to see what he had and it dropped a car as with talons and feathers! We could not tell what kind of hawk it was but it was much bigger than a dove!
    Like Diane above I did a search to see if Red tailed hawks eat other hawks. Thanks for posting this photo and story!

  20. My family just saw these same hawk species fighting in our neighborhood, in Atlanta, GA. They originally thought that the hawks were mating, but the smaller one was found injured across the neighborhood shortly after.

    1. Marc, as a rule hawks do not eat members of their own species *but* there are rare cases in which they do. Every spring that she nested (2016-2019) the female peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning nest ate one or more of her own chicks as they hatched. This was such aberrant behavior that we know of no other cases like it. For a description of her behavior see https://www.birdsoutsidemywindow.org/2019/04/27/hope-eats-egg-4/

  21. Today we witnessed a hawk on hawk attack. We heard screeching for several days from our white pines, which has been a nesting place over the years for red winged hawks. Naturally, we assumed mom was teaching baby to fly/hunt when 2 hawk swooped only feet away from our deck. Rather quickly, one hawk was on top of the other. I was thinking, mom must be pulling some of the down like feathers from the baby to help with flying. Wow, I was wrong. It’s been two hours and hawk is still feeding in my yard. I question if mom consumed offspring? What was the screeching for all those days if not babies?
    I did get a video , yuck.

  22. Another red tail on red tail attack and feast witnessed near drive way.
    Sunday PM, 1/15/23. Saxonburg, Butler County.
    Pile of feathers and carcass left.
    Looks like down to three red tails left in the wooded areas around house.
    Hope the food supply is good, but should be without snow cover for several weeks now.

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