Are Hawks Dangerous To Humans? (Find Out Why)


If you see a hawk circling above while you are outside alone or with your children, it is important to know if they are dangerous to humans. 

While the risk of attack is small, the risks increase if you are near a hawk’s nest.

Hawks are dangerous to humans because they can cause wounds to the flesh and spread diseases that negatively impact human health. They can also prey on small pets such as kittens, or livestock, like chicks. Hawks cannot lift prey larger than their own body weight. Yet, they will attack threats, diving from behind at speeds up to 150 miles per hour, to protect their offspring.

This article will go on to further explain why hawks are dangerous, what to do if one attacks you, and more.

Why Are Hawks Dangerous To Humans?

Hawks are dangerous to humans because they will aggressively protect their nests, harm pets and livestock, and spread many diseases and parasites.

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Aggressive Protection: Curved Beaks & Talons

A hawk attack will occur if a person is too close to their nest and chicks. Hawks tend to attack from behind, for hunting and defense, using the element of surprise. 

They use their sharp, curved talons and strong hooked beaks which are equipped for piercing, biting, and tearing into flesh.

While an attack on a human may result in minor injuries, the curved nature of their talons and beaks can cause deep cuts and pain. Greater injury is possible if a hawk attacks a sensitive area, such as the throat, eyes, or ears.

Attacks On Pets & Livestock: Weight Factors

Much like humans, a hawk will attack a pet if it comes too close to its nest. 

Hawks are predatory carnivores as well. Depending upon the size of the pet or livestock, a hawk may also see it as a food source.  

Hawk Weights

There are approximately 270 species of hawks (Falconiformes) found around the world, with about 25 of them in the United States alone.

The overall adult size of a hawk depends upon its species, ranging approximately from 2 ounces (oz.) to 5 pounds (lbs). Females weigh more than males.

Hawks tend to only prey on animals that weigh the same or less than them so that they can carry them away from the competition with other predators. 

They will circle the area to survey the land. Then the hawk swoops in to attack and cause fatal injury to the prey’s organs, and then it tears flesh from the belly to access the innards.  

The following table gives examples of different species of hawks, and how much they typically weigh:

HawkAdult Weight (pounds/lbs)
Sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus)0.18 to 0.5 lbs
Gray goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae)0.75 to 1.5 lbs
Black sparrowhawk (Accipiter melanoleucus)0.99 to 2.2 lbs
Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)1.5 to 3.2 lbs
Ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis)2.16 to 4.6 lbs

Please note: The tarantula hawk (Pepsis thisbe) is not a hawk. It is a type of wasp (insect) that preys on tarantulas by stinging them to paralyze them and then consuming them.

Prey Weights

Hawks will attack small cats or dogs, pet rabbits, or livestock such as poultry, under 5 pounds (lbs).  While it is uncommon, a hawk may also attempt to attack and carry an animal bigger than itself. 

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Kittens are more likely to be attacked than adult cats since they are lightweight and do not have fully developed talons for fighting back. Chicks and ducklings, in particular, are also targets for hawks.

This table gives some examples of pets and livestock and whether or not a hawk could carry it:

AnimalCan A Hawk Carry It?
DogPossibly yes, if it weighs ≤ 5 pounds (miniature breeds and puppies)
CatsYes, if it is a kitten (2 to 3 pounds)
RabbitsYes, small breeds and wild species (2 to 5 pounds)
ChickensYes, small breeds (≤ 5 lbs) and chicks (0.08 lbs)
DucksYes, small breeds (≤ 5 lbs) and ducklings (0.07 to 0.09 lbs)
GoatPossibly yes, if it weighs ≤ 5 pounds (babies: 4 to 8 lbs)
TurkeyYes, poults only (babies: 1 to 4 lbs)

Which Diseases Do Hawks Spread?

Hawks are known to spread many diseases, making them of concern if the hawk or its droppings are encountered. Some of these diseases are from indirect sources, such as pests like mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, and lice.

Thoroughly wash affected areas after any contact with a hawk or its water, food sources, nesting, or droppings.

This table shows examples of diseases spread through direct and indirect contact as well as from droppings:

Direct ContactIndirect ContactDroppings

  • Candidiasis (fungal: from contaminated environment & contact)

  • Pasteurellosis (bacterial: through scratches)

  • E.coli (bacterial: from contaminated environment & contact)

  • Erysipeloid (bacterial: contact through broken skin)

  • West Nile Virus (through mosquito transmission)

  • Flea-borne (murine) typhus (bacterial: spread by fleas)

  • Lyme disease (bacterial: spread by ticks)

  • Epidemic typhus, Louse-borne relapsing fever, Trench fever: (baterical: spread by lice)

  • Avian tuberculosis (bacterial-typically affects birds, sometimes pigs, and humans)

  • Avian influenza (viral)

Please note that the spread of disease in the above table moves directly from hawk to human, unless it is indirect or otherwise noted.

Will A Hawk Attack Children?

Hawks do not generally attack children unless they are disrupting or in close proximity to their nests. 

In other cases, children are too big to be prey. They are more likely to attack an animal for food, rather than any person.

Can A Hawk Pick Up A Human?

A hawk cannot pick up a human because they are too heavy. Healthy human infants weigh from 5.8 to 8.13 pounds on average. 

While a hawk could in theory pick up a newborn or premature baby at 5 pounds or less, it is highly unlikely.

This is because an infant would be under the supervision and care of an adult, and not left out in the open for a hawk to snatch it.

Are Hawks Scared Of Humans?

Hawks are not afraid of humans and will swoop in and attack them if they are too close to a nest. 

In general, hawks do not interact with humans in the wild, unless they are provoked. Conversely, hawks are not friendly. They do not seek to socially interact with humans.

However, hawks can be found around people’s homes. 

As birds of prey, hawks typically hunt for live food sources that equal to their body weight or less. 

Creatures such as insects, mice, snakes, lizards, and voles can be found in gardens and landscaping. Other animals such as kittens, rabbits, and chicks are found on people’s properties.

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Are Hawks Scared Of Anything?

Some animals and man-made items can scare hawks away from properties. Even though hawks are birds of prey, they may flee from other birds of prey or predators such as owls, eagles, crows, and wolves.

Owls are nocturnal hunters, whereas hawks hunt during the day (diurnal). Owls can stealthily and silently capture hawks. 

Eagles are larger birds that can overcome hawks. 

Groups of crows will “mob” and attack hawks to chase them away. 

Wolves will hunt in packs and will attempt to hunt birds at times.

People use deterrents in their gardens and properties to startle hawks such as a decoy owl statue, automatic sprinklers, ultrasonic devices, shiny ribbon tape, or a large barking dog. 

What To Do If A Hawk Attacks You

While hawk attacks on humans are rare and unlikely to be lethal, you can take action to protect yourself.

Hawks attack by sneaking up on their prey from behind and diving towards it at fast speeds. Some hawks can dive at speeds up to 150 miles per hour (mph)

Turning your back and running away incites the hawk to a chase, and you cannot outrun it.

Therefore, do the following if a hawk is threatening you: 

  1. Face it head-on.
  2. Wave your arms over your head to show aggressiveness.
  3. Make loud noises and shout at the bird.
  4. Continue to do this until it has backed down. 
    • If it still approaches you, cover your eyes with one hand, wave the other, and walk backward slowly. 
    • Continue to make loud noises.

If hawks are a continual nuisance in your area, carry an umbrella with you. Walk with it open. This will protect your head and make you look larger.

If you receive any wounds from a hawk attack, they must be medically treated to prevent infection or the spread of disease.

Prevention Of Encounters

The best way to avoid hawk attacks is to prevent encounters with them in the first place. 

Hawks are territorial, defending areas up to 2 square miles. Ideally, you want to stay several miles away from any hawk nests, but that can be tricky if one is on your property.

Use deterrents as mentioned above such as a decoy owl or automatic sprinklers to scare them away. 

Keep your property free from excess debris and composting that invites mice and snakes on your property. 

Chickens and other vulnerable livestock should be in a well-encased enclosure with a top that prevents hawks from swooping in.

Bird feeders should be removed to prevent large congregations of smaller birds, mice, and chipmunks that hawks will prey on from your yard.

Is It Legal To Attack Hawks?

The United States federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918) states that it is illegal to harm or trap birds with bullets, poison, cages, or other forms of trapping or harm. 

A permit is needed to hunt or shoot any bird, as well as to trap them for scientific or educational purposes. 

If a hawk is killed illegally, that person is subject to a fine of up to $5,000 as well as a 6-month prison sentence.

When Is Hawk Nesting Season?

Hawk nesting season takes place in the spring, typically April and May, and extends into the summer. 

Breeding starts in the late winter, the nests are built in spring, and then 1 to 5 eggs are laid. Both parents will incubate the eggs for about 28 to 35 days

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Once hatched, the babies leave the nest about 6 to 7 weeks later. Yet, they need an additional two weeks or so to develop a strong flight. 

Fledglings remain dependent on their parents for food, even when they start to fly. They will remain with their parents for an additional 1 or 2 months after they have left the nest.

How To Spot Hawk Nests 

Knowing how to spot hawk nests can help keep both you and the birds safe. 

Hawks typically build their nests up in trees, on ledges or roofs, and in other spots that offer a high vantage point for surveying.

Hawks use large sticks to build large nests that vary in size depending upon the species. The nest must be able to accommodate several eggs. 

For example, a red-tailed hawk’s nest takes 4 to 7 days to build. The outer layer of the nest is up to 6.5 feet high and 3 feet wide. The inner lining of the nest consists of bark strips, vegetation, and strips of bark.

Take note that squirrel nests are also high up in trees. However, these are smaller than hawk nests and are made from packed leaves instead of sticks.

Hawks will also reuse nests each year. It is illegal to remove a bird nest without a permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Unattended hawk nests will also be used by owls. So if an owl settles in, the hawk is not likely to return.

This video is a live feed of a red-tailed hawk’s’ nest at Cornell University:

To End

Hawks pose some dangerous risks to humans.

Through direct and indirect contact, diseases can spread from hawk to human. Diseases also spread through their droppings to other creatures and humans.

Hawks rarely interact with humans in friendly or aggressive ways. However, if people get too close to their nests, they will swoop in at incredible speeds and attack from behind. 

Their curved and powerful beaks and talons can tear into flesh and cause wounds that need medical attention.

Hawks also threaten small animals similar to their body weights, such as kittens, feeder birds, and chicks seeking them out as prey.

It is best to avoid encounters with hawks and their nests. It is illegal to harm hawks. However, people can protect themselves from an attack by facing the bird head-on, waving their arms, walking with an umbrella overhead, and making loud noises.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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