"Hawks" is the general term used to describe the 270 species of birds of prey that comprises the order Falconiformes. All hawks have basic similarities such as keen eyesight, said to be the best in the entire animal world, taloned feet and hooked beaks for capturing and eating prey. The different hawk species vary greatly in size, ranging from the 11" long sharp shinned hawk to the rough legged hawk, who measures 22", with a wingspan of over 55". Female hawks are nearly all larger than males. Hawks are strong, powerful birds and are all excellent hunters that prey on a wide variety of small animals and other birds. Chicks and smaller chicken breeds are sometimes preyed on.
Hawks species can be found distributed widely across the world. They can easily mould into any surroundings, but prefer habitats such as deserts and fields, but can also be found in mountainous plains and tropical, moist areas. Red tailed hawks are the most widely distributed hawk in the Americas, with numbers ranging around 1 million.
Hawks have extremely keen eyesight and can often be seen scanning for prey from an elevated perch site. Once prey is spotted, the hawk will swoop down and pin it down with it's talons, often killing it on impact. They also watch for prey while flying, sometimes capturing a bird in flight. If their prey is too large to swallow whole, it is torn to bite-sized pieces with the hawk's beak.
Prevention and Treatment
Relentless hawks and how to deal with them is often a big concern for chicken keepers. The easiest way to protect your flock from hawks is by constructing a secure coop with a covered run. Roofing sheets, bird or deer netting, hardware cloth or chicken wire can be used. Make sure the cover is secure, without any loose or weak parts through which a hawk could gain access. Some popular hawk deterrents that people have had some success with is hanging old CD's and other shiny objects on string from trees around the chicken's coop and run, keeping a well trained dog with or near the chickens and strategically placed pallets and boards for chickens to duck under for shelter. Guinea fowl and alert roosters in your flock can be good, reliable "alarms" for when a hawk, or any other kind of predator, is spotted. Some roosters and fiercely protective broody hens may even attack or fight off hawks!
Please note that hawks are protected by law and capturing and killing them may result in you getting a serious fine or even jail time. Questions concerning the protection or raptors and the legalities concerning them should be directed to your local state Conservation Officer, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
For more discussions on hawks and how to deter them see the predators and pests section of the forum.