Do Hawks Eat Snakes? Are Hawks Predators or Prey?

Hawks are well-known worldwide for their powerful hunting abilities enhanced by their keen senses and high speed. However, people often think they prey on small mammals rather than delight in larger and more powerful prey. What if we told you that some hawks are much more courageous than we think?!

Some hawk species are specialized in hunting, catching, killing, and eating snakes as long as 5 feet! They will even prey on rattlesnakes if the circumstances favor them!

Do Hawks Eat Snakes?

Hawks will undoubtedly feast on a snake if the circumstances make it possible! Among lizards, mice, fish, rabbits, squirrels, and birds, snakes are one of the favorite foods of a hawk!

These birds of prey are considered ferocious and agile predators that can kill much larger prey. Although people often think they feed on small mammals, reptiles represent a big part of their diet! Snakes, specifically, are food sources rich in fats, proteins, and minerals. Moreover, While hawks prefer live prey, they’ll sometimes feed on dead animals, too, snakes included.

However, not all hawk species are specialized in hunting and killing snakes. For instance, species like the Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), Harris’s hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus), or Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) are more used to and qualified for seeking out snakes than other hawks.

The red-tailed hawk is probably the most skilled snake predator, as it’s known to prey on more than 40 snake species, the predominant being colubrid snakes, more specifically gopher snakes and eastern racers. 

do hawks eat snakes

How Do Hawks Catch and Eat Snakes?

To catch these ground-dwelling reptiles, a hawk tries to spot their prey while flying. Since it has keen eyesight, it can spot a snake from far up in the sky. Once it sees the snake, the bird swoops down and catches it using its talons, which are extremely sharp and powerful.

While some snakes die upon being attacked with the talons, others are stronger – in which cases the hawk will resort to its beak.

Then, the hawk will often fly off with the snake to feed on it somewhere else. The red-tailed hawk, for instance, was spotted flying with a snake that measured around 5 feet long!

Why Don’t Snakes Constrict Hawks?

First, snakes rarely look up searching for predators, so most of them are taken by surprise when a hawk grabs them.

If the snake isn’t killed during the attack and is taken in mid-air by the hawk, there isn’t much the former can do, as it would need to be on the ground to be able to use its muscles for constriction. Therefore, if snakes are taken by surprise, there’s little to no chance for them to survive in a snake vs. hawk confrontation!

Do Hawks Eat Poisonous Snakes?

Yes, hawks may sometimes eat poisonous snakes. However, this isn’t very common. Even one of the most skilled hawks in catching snakes, the red-tailed hawks, will avoid venomous snakes if possible. This is further proved by the data taken from the San Joaquin Experimental Range in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

The data mentioned above indicate that the red-tailed hawks living in the San Joaquin Experimental Range killed 225 gopher snakes as opposed to 83 western rattlesnakes, although the latter was much more abundant than the former.

Still, the Red-tailed hawk is known to have preyed on at least 15 venomous snakes, which shows that although they tend to avoid them, these hawks won’t refuse a venomous snake if other food sources are scarce.

In fact, this specific species is known to have killed a specimen of the largest and heaviest poisonous snake species on the North American continent – that is, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake or, scientifically called, Crotalus adamanteus.

Do Hawks Get Bit By Rattlesnakes?

Yes, hawks may sometimes get bit by rattlesnakes. Although they’re known to be skilled in catching and killing both venomous and non-venomous snakes, rattlesnakes can bite the hawks attacking them if the circumstances provide this opportunity.

Even if the snake is severely injured or even partially consumed, it may succeed in killing the hawk enemy since the latter isn’t immune to snake venom. However, this most often happens when young or inexperienced hawks try to attack a rattlesnake.

Do Hawks Eat Kingsnakes?

Since kingsnakes are constrictors, hawks may prey on them, too. However, this highly depends on the snake’s size and on the circumstances. If the kingsnake is too small and is fast enough to escape, hawks do not stand a chance against it! That’s why these large birds typically prefer preying on larger snakes – they’re easier to catch!

On the other hand, red-tailed hawks are known to prey on small snakes, too, including a 0.21-ounce redbelly snake. This indicates that whether a hawk will or will not choose to catch a kingsnake depends primarily on the circumstances.

In short, while kingsnakes can survive the bite of a dangerous venomous snake thanks to a specific protein in their blood, they cannot survive in a confrontation with a hawk if taken by surprise!

Some Snake Species Hawks Will Eat:

To conclude the snake vs. hawk confrontation discussion, we’ve decided to list some of the most common snake species hawks prey on:

  • Gopher snake – Pituophis catenifer
  • Eastern racer – Coluber constrictor
  • Eastern rat snake – Pantherophis alleghaniensis
  • Cottonmouth – Agkistrodon piscivorous
  • Coral snake – Elapidae family
  • Redbelly snake – Storeria genus
  • Eastern diamondback rattlesnake – Crotalus adamanteus
  • Baby eastern indigo snakes – Drymarchon couperi
  • Rattlesnakes – Crotalus and Sistrurus genus
  • Kingsnakes – Lampropeltis genus
  • Baby anacondas – Eunectes genus
  • Baby pythons – Pythonidae family

Leave a Comment