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Can a Hawk Pick Up a Chicken?

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Most chicken owners are familiar with hawks, but everyone may not be aware of how dangerous they are when it comes to chickens. Hawks are smaller birds of prey, and many believe that they are unable to pick up chickens.

A hawk can pick up and fly off with a small chicken that weighs the same or less than it does.

A hawk can even pick up a larger chicken, although it may not be able to carry it very far because of its weight. Chickens are easy and readily available prey for many hawks on farms across the country

Understanding the predatory nature of hawks reveals how backyard chickens can easily become prey for them. Many chickens weigh less than some hawk species and even if they do not, they can still end up being food for strong-willed individuals.

How Much Weight Can a Hawk Pick Up?

Hawks can usually only pick up small animals and chickens that weigh no more than they do, which is typically 3.8 pounds or less.

Hawks may try to pick up animals that weigh more than they do, but they cannot fly off with them and resort to dragging them away instead.

If a hawk is unable to carry off a chicken because it weighs more than it does, the hawk will still severely injure and often kill the animal if it is able to do so. Just because a chicken is on the larger side, it does not mean that it cannot fall prey to a hawk.

Can a Hawk Pick Up a Full Grown Chicken?

Hawks can pick up a full grown chicken depending on the chicken’s weight. If a chicken only weighs a couple pounds, it is easy for most hawks to pick up.

Chickens that weigh more than the hawk can still be picked up, but the hawk will more than likely not be able to carry it very far. The chicken can still be severely injured and killed by the hawk, regardless of its larger size.

Can a Hawk Pick Up a Full Grown Rooster?

Hawks can pick up a full grown rooster if the rooster weighs the same or less than the hawk. Bantam rooster breeds sometimes weigh only a couple pounds and can easily be picked up by a hawk.

Larger roosters are often better equipped at defending themselves against hawks that try to pick them up. Despite a rooster’s size, however, they can still be momentarily picked up by a hawk and injured with their long talons.

Hawk ready to fly position

Will Hawks Pick Up Baby Chickens?

Hawks will definitely pick up baby chickens as well as young chickens before they even try to grab a larger chicken. This is because they instinctively know that the young chickens are not only easy to pick up, they are also less likely to put up a fight.

Even if the mother hen is nearby, hawks will still try, and often succeed, to pick up a baby or young chicken. The hen will mount a hefty defense, but they are often not quick or strong enough to protect all their young from a hungry hawk.

Do Hawks Pick Up Their Prey and Fly off With It?

Hawks normally do pick up their prey and carry it off to their perches so that they can eat their kill without being disturbed. This can be easily done with small animals like baby chicks, young chickens, and small breed hens or roosters.

A hawk that picks up larger chickens and other prey will drag it off and tear it apart. More often than not, it will carry the small, dismembered pieces of larger prey back to its perch and eat it there.

Can You Shoot a Hawk if It Is Attacking Chickens?

It is illegal to shoot and kill any hawks in the United States thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

A special hunting permit can be obtained in some situations, but only if the hawk or hawks are posing a threat to public health or public safety.

It does not matter if the hawk is attacking your chickens or not, legally you cannot shoot a hawk for any reason. You are allowed to try to scare off hawks and encourage them to look for food elsewhere.

Will a Hawk Keep Coming Back for Chickens?

If a hawk discovers that there are chickens in a specific area, it will keep coming back if it determines that they are an easy source of food. Hawks typically hunt in the same areas where they know prey is prevalent.

Hawks tend to hunt right before dark, although they may hunt throughout the day in some instances. If you want to let your chickens run free for a bit, stay outside with them if you can and put them up well before it gets dark.

Harris Hawk hunting food

Why Do Hawks Hunt Chickens?

Hawks are predatory birds that hunt small animals including birds, rodents, rabbits, squirrels, lizards, and even snakes. Hawks hunt chickens simply because they fall into the bird category and they are easy for them to kill.

For a hawk, it is simply looking for its next meal and it sees the chickens as a source of food. It does not understand that the chickens are pets or that they are there for a reason beyond being a food source.

How to Keep Hawks Away From Chickens

Since it is illegal to shoot hawks and reasoning with them is out of the question, you will have to find alternative methods for discouraging them from hunting your chickens.

Here are a few ways to keep hawks away from chickens:

1. Trap and Relocate

Permits can be obtained on a state or local level from wildlife officials to trap and relocate hawks that are causing you issues. It is best to contact a professional bird trapper to handle this for you since handling hawks and their sharp talons can be very dangerous.

2. Use a Sound Device Repellant

Although it will not eliminate the threat completely, you can use a scary sound device to frighten hawks and dissuade them from hunting your property. Shell crackers, shotgun blasts (not directed at the hawk), bird bombs, and air horns can scare off hawks.

3. Cover Chicken Enclosures

While you may like to let your chickens roam freely, the best way to protect them from hawks is to cover their runs. You can use plastic or mesh netting, wire, chain-link fencing, or another material to cover the chickens’ outdoor runs to make it more difficult for hawks to get to them.

4. Eliminate Perches

One simple way to deter hawks is to eliminate potential perches that they sit on to watch and hunt your chickens. You can remove unnecessary poles, low-hanging limbs, or posts near your chicken area that they may stop to perch on.

5. Secure Vulnerable Chickens

Keep small and young chickens in safe, covered areas until they are older and better able to defend themselves. Hawks will go after the smallest chickens in the mix because they are able to snatch them up quickly and without much struggle. 

Final Thoughts

Hawks prey on chickens that live on backyard farms around the country. Almost no free range chicken is 100 percent safe from becoming hawk food. Now that you truly understand the risk hawks pose, you can make some changes to better protect your backyard chickens from the clutches of a hungry hawk.


Researching hawks and whether or not they can pick up chickens is a very educational experience, especially if you raise or plan to raise chickens in the future. Here are the sources I used to write this particular article.