Imagine that you’re sitting outside with your toddler and suddenly, you see a hawk circling above you, and your heart races from fear. Hawks are intimidating birds of prey that pose a significant risk to many small animals and other birds.
But do they pose a risk to humans?
Hawks can be dangerous to humans if they come near hawk nests during the nesting season. Hawks also can spread diseases that might be transmitted to humans. However, most conflicts between hawks and humans result in only minor injuries like cuts and scrapes.
Why Hawks Can Be Dangerous to Humans
Hawks are not usually hostile towards people, but they can become aggressive when their nests appear to be threatened.
If you approach a hawk nest during the breeding season, there’s a good chance that you’ll experience a hawk attack.
While most hawk attacks result in only minor injuries, hawks have sharp claws and can cause deep cuts in some cases.
Attacks on People
In 2006, a red-tailed hawk attacked 30 or more people on the Village Greens Golf Course in Woodridge, Illinois.
These attacks happened during nesting season when the hawks are particularly defensive of their baby chicks.
Once the babies learned to fly around the end of June, the attacks subsided.
Hawks have sharp talons and can do real damage when they attack. Thankfully, only two of these victims were hospitalized for their cuts, and the rest sustained only minor injuries.
Attacks on Pets and Livestock
Hawks will generally prey upon animals that are smaller than themselves. For most hawks, this might mean animals weighing four pounds or less.
It’s uncommon to see a hawk attacking and attempting to carry away small breeds of cats or dogs. However, it does happen and it’s never a good idea to leave any pet under 20 pounds alone outside.
Hawks may also attack cats or dogs who come near their nests as a defensive maneuver.
Hawk attacks on small chickens are much more common than attacks on cats or dogs because chickens are small enough to be considered prey.
Diseases Spread by Hawks
There are over 60 diseases that hawks can spread to humans, which are spread both through direct contact and contact with droppings.
These include all of the following:
- Avian tuberculosis: This potentially fatal bacterial disease spreads through contact with bird droppings.
- West nile virus: This is transmitted indirectly from hawks to humans through mosquito carriers and can be potentially fatal or cause months of illness.
- Candidiasis: This fungal infection spreads from hawks to humans through contact and affects the mouth, skin, intestines, and respiratory system.
- Pasteurellosis: This is spread to humans through scratches or bites from infected birds. It causes scratch marks to become red, itchy, and infected and can cause respiratory problems like bronchitis, septicemia, and pneumonia.
- E.coli: This can spread to humans from birds when infected birds spread the bacteria to water or food or direct contact with a person.
- Avian influenza: This causes flu symptoms like fever, cough, and muscle aches and can be deadly. It spreads from infected birds to humans through their droppings.
- Erysipeloid: This is spread through direct contact with hawks, affecting broken skin and causes an infection that turns the skin blue-red. The infection can further spread to affect the joints.
Numerous parasites live on the skin of hawks and can spread to humans through direct contact with either the hawk or a hawk’s nest, which include:
- Fleas: They transfer to humans or pets from hawks and other birds very easily, and can reproduce very rapidly inside a nest.
- Ticks: They can spread from birds to humans through direct contact or contact with a shared surface, like handling a bird’s perch. Ticks can carry many different diseases, including Lyme Disease.
- Lice: They can spread easily from bird feathers to human hair and skin.
After making contact with a hawk, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water to prevent illness.
How Hawks Attack
Whether hunting or defending their nest, hawks rely on the element of surprise in their attacks. They approach quickly from behind and use their talons and beaks to kill their prey.
Let’s take a look at how to protect yourself, your animals, and your loved ones from a hawk attack.
How To Stay Safe From Hawk Attacks
The best way to keep yourself and your animals safe from hawk attacks is to prevent any encounter from happening in the first place.
Shiny repellents like old CDs and shiny ribbon tape can scare away predators like the hawk.
Consider trying a shiny pinwheel-like Vctas Reflective PinWheels, found on Amazon, for effectiveness and aesthetic appeal.
If you have chickens in your backyard that you need to protect, make sure that you provide a coop where they can run for cover.
A covered run with netting or fencing as a roof also works well for deterring aerial predators. Chickens with lighter feathers are more at risk for attack than those with darker feathers.
If you notice a hawk close by, make sure that you face it head-on, because hawks attack from behind.
Is It Legal To Attack a Hawk?
Hawks are not endangered or threatened, but they have special protections due to the U.S. Migratory Act, which states that it is illegal to hurt, hunt, trap, cage, poison, shoot, or in any way harm a hawk in the United States.
If a hawk is attacking you or your pets, the best thing you can do is scare the hawk away without hurting it.
Looking Out for Hawk Nests
Hawks mainly attack people when they approach their nests. Staying safe from hawks is easier if you know where to look for hawk nests and how to recognize them when you see them.
Hawks build their nests high up on trees, ledges, roofs, and other places with a good vantage point. You can recognize their nests by the large sticks used to construct them.
These nests are tall, up to 6.5 feet high (2 meters), and wide, and 3 feet (0.91 meters) across.
Hawks line their nests with bark, foliage, and vegetation.
Hawks often reuse nests, so if you notice a hawk’s nest one year, there are good chances the birds will return to it the next.
Some raptors, like the Great Horned Owl, will take over hawk nests that are left unattended.
Hawk breeding season starts in the late winter and early spring and is followed by the nesting season for their young.
Usually, hawks will start building their nests between April and May and then lay two to three eggs, incubated by the male and the female for 28 to 35 days.
After the eggs have hatched, they’ll stay in the nest for about 44 to 46 days.
Hawks are especially protective of their nests from when their eggs are laid to the point where the nestlings leave. This period usually lasts for a good part of the spring and the summer.
How To Tell a Hawk’s Nest Apart From a Squirrel’s Nest
Squirrels, like hawks, build their nests high up in the trees, and from a distance, the two can look similar.
However, squirrels’ nests are smaller than hawks’ nests, and they make their nests from packed leaves instead of sticks.
These are easier to tell apart with a good pair of binoculars like the Gosky 10×42 Roof Prism Binoculars, found on Amazon.
Hawks pose a risk to humans because they are defensive of their nests during the breeding season and because they carry diseases.
You can mitigate this risk by watching out for hawks’ nests, keeping your distance, and not turning your back on a defensive hawk.
You should never harm a hawk because the U.S. Migratory Act protects these birds.