Can I Shoot a Hawk Attacking My Chickens?

It’s a sunny day, and you’re going about your chores, when you notice a shadow quickly sweep over your chicken coop. A swift look at the sky reveals a hawk circling, its keen eyes fixed on your chickens. This scenario is more common than one might think, with many backyard chicken keepers encountering it. Hawks are part of nature’s design, and their presence can put your chickens at risk, raising an important question – what to do when a hawk targets your poultry?

The direct answer to the blog title query is generally no; it is not legal to shoot a hawk, even if it is attacking your chickens. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects these predatory birds, making it illegal to harm, possess, or kill them. Violating this law can result in severe penalties, making it crucial for every chicken owner to know about it.

While this information may initially cause alarm, the good news is there are alternative measures to safeguard your chickens without resorting to shooting hawks. This article will explore such solutions, along with understanding why hawks target chickens, the laws protecting them, and how to coexist with these remarkable creatures without endangering your poultry.

Why Are Hawks Attracted to Chickens?

The Natural Predator-Prey Relationship

At the heart of the problem lies a fundamental predator-prey relationship. Hawks, by their very nature, are predators, and chickens fall into their list of potential prey. Hawks hunt for survival and are driven by instinct, not malice. Understanding this is the first step in addressing the issue effectively.

Urbanization and the Increase in Predatory Bird Attacks

Urbanization has led to a significant loss of natural habitats for many species, including hawks. As a result, these birds have increasingly encroached upon urban and suburban areas in search of food, leading to increased interactions with backyard chicken keepers.

What Laws Protect Hawks?

Hawks are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), a federal law enacted to conserve and manage migratory bird populations in the United States. Understanding the legal framework surrounding hawks is crucial for chicken owners who may face conflicts between these predatory birds and their poultry. Let’s delve into the specifics of the MBTA and the penalties associated with violating the law.

Explanation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, enacted in 1918, is a federal law that protects over 800 species of migratory birds, including hawks. The primary objective of the MBTA is to conserve and manage these bird populations by regulating their take, which includes killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transporting.

The MBTA originated from four international treaties, namely the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds (1916), the Convention between the United States and Great Britain for the Protection of Migratory Birds (1916), the Convention between the United States and the United Mexican States for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Game Mammals (1936), and the Convention between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the Conservation of Migratory Birds and their Environment (1978).

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Penalties for Violating the MBTA

Violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act can lead to severe consequences, including both civil and criminal penalties. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for enforcing the MBTA, and penalties can vary based on the specific circumstances and intent of the violation.

Civil penalties for unintentional take, such as the incidental capture of a hawk in a trap or net, can result in fines ranging from $250 to $200,000 per violation. For intentional and knowing violations, such as purposefully shooting a hawk, criminal penalties can include fines up to $250,000 and imprisonment for up to two years for individuals. For organizations, fines can reach up to $500,000.

It is important to note that penalties under the MBTA are applicable regardless of whether the bird in question is a protected species or not. Any migratory bird, including hawks, is protected by this law.

Exceptions and Permits

While the MBTA provides broad protection for migratory birds, including hawks, there are exceptions and permits available in certain circumstances. These exceptions are typically related to scientific research, conservation efforts, and Native American religious practices.

For example, if you believe there is a compelling reason to remove a hawk that poses an imminent threat to human health or safety, or if it is causing significant economic damage, you may be able to apply for a depredation permit. These permits are issued on a case-by-case basis and require documentation and evidence supporting the need for removal.

If you find yourself in a situation where you believe an exception or permit may be necessary, it is crucial to consult your local wildlife agency or the USFWS for guidance. They can provide specific information on the process and requirements for obtaining permits.

Understanding the legal protections for hawks is essential for responsible chicken owners. It is crucial to explore alternative methods for protecting your chickens from hawks without resorting to harm or illegal activities. In the next section, we will discuss non-lethal strategies and actions you can take to safeguard your poultry.

What to Do If a Hawk Attacks Your Chickens?

Encountering a hawk attacking your beloved chickens can be a distressing experience. While shooting the hawk is not an option, there are several steps you can take to mitigate the risk to your flock and ensure their safety. Here are some immediate and non-harmful actions you can consider:

1. Scare the Hawk Away

When a hawk targets your chickens, your first instinct may be to protect them. One effective method is to scare the hawk away using non-lethal means. The goal is to deter the bird without causing harm. Here are a few techniques you can employ:

  • Loud Noises: Make loud noises to startle the hawk. Clap your hands, use a whistle, or bang pots and pans together. The sudden noise can often disrupt the hawk’s attack and prompt it to flee.
  • Motion and Movement: Hawks are less likely to attack when they sense movement. Wave your arms vigorously, jump up and down, or use a scarecrow with moving parts near the chicken coop.
  • Water Spraying: If you have a garden hose or a spray bottle, you can use water to deter the hawk. Aim the water stream in the direction of the hawk, taking care not to spray your chickens. Hawks generally dislike being wet and will often retreat when sprayed with water.

Remember to prioritize the safety of both your chickens and yourself while implementing these methods. It is essential to act quickly but calmly to protect your flock from harm.

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2. Provide Shelter and Cover

Creating a safe and secure environment for your chickens is crucial in reducing the risk of hawk attacks. Consider implementing the following measures:

  • Covered Runs: If possible, enclose your chicken run with a secure roof or netting. This prevents hawks from swooping down directly onto your chickens.
  • Natural Shelter: Planting tall trees or installing shrubs near the coop can provide natural cover for your chickens. The foliage helps create a barrier that hawks may find more challenging to navigate, reducing the likelihood of an attack.
  • Roosting Areas: Ensure that your chickens have access to covered roosting areas within the coop. Hawks are less likely to strike when they cannot see potential prey.

By providing adequate shelter and cover, you create an environment that discourages hawk attacks, allowing your chickens to roam safely.

3. Implement Deterrents

Using visual and auditory deterrents can help dissuade hawks from targeting your chickens. These methods exploit the hawk’s instinctual fear of predators and can be effective in preventing attacks. Consider the following options:

  • Decoys: Placing decoy predators, such as owl or hawk statues, in and around your chicken coop can create an illusion of danger. Hawks may perceive the area as occupied by another predator and choose to stay away.
  • Reflective Objects: Hanging reflective objects, like old CDs or shiny tape, around your coop can create flashes of light that startle hawks. The constantly changing reflections may convince the hawk that there is movement, deterring it from approaching.
  • Noise-Making Devices: Using noise-making devices can help deter hawks. Wind chimes, aluminum pie pans, or even a radio set to a talk radio station can create noise that disrupts the hawk’s focus and encourages it to leave.

Remember to rotate and vary the placement of deterrents to prevent hawks from becoming accustomed to them. Consistency is key in maintaining their effectiveness.

Alternatives to Shooting a Hawk

When faced with a hawk attacking your chickens, it’s important to explore alternative solutions that prioritize the safety of both your flock and the hawk itself. Shooting the hawk is neither a legal nor an ethical option. Here are some alternatives to consider:

1. Trapping and Relocating

If you are dealing with persistent hawk-related issues and have exhausted non-lethal methods, trapping and relocating the hawk may be an option. However, it’s important to note that trapping and relocation should only be carried out by licensed professionals or under the guidance of your local wildlife agency. They have the expertise to ensure the hawk’s welfare and minimize stress during the process.

2. Working with Wildlife Control Professionals

In situations where hawk attacks pose a significant threat to your poultry, consulting wildlife control professionals can be beneficial. These experts specialize in humane wildlife management and can provide valuable guidance tailored to your specific situation. They may suggest additional deterrents, habitat modifications, or other effective strategies to prevent hawk attacks.

3. Enhancing Chicken Coop Security

Taking proactive measures to fortify your chicken coop can significantly reduce the risk of hawk attacks. Consider the following modifications:

  • Covered Outdoor Areas: Extend the roof of your chicken run or provide covered outdoor areas where your chickens can safely roam. This provides an added layer of protection from aerial attacks.
  • Wire Mesh Fencing: Install sturdy wire mesh fencing around the coop and run to create a physical barrier that hawks cannot penetrate. Ensure the mesh openings are small enough to prevent hawk intrusion.
  • Secure Doors and Windows: Regularly inspect and reinforce doors and windows to prevent hawks from gaining access. Use secure latches and locks to keep your flock safe.

By implementing these security measures, you create a more resilient environment for your chickens, reducing their vulnerability to hawk attacks.

4. Understanding Natural Predation and Adjusting Practices

It’s important to recognize that hawks play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance. Understanding their natural predatory instincts can help you adjust your chicken-keeping practices accordingly. Consider the following:

  • Supervised Free-Range Time: Allow your chickens to free-range but only under your supervision. This allows them to engage in natural behaviors while reducing the risk of hawk attacks.
  • Diversify Your Flock: Some chicken breeds are more resilient and better equipped to handle hawk attacks. Consider adding more robust breeds to your flock, as they may have a better chance of evading or deterring hawks.
  • Timing and Vigilance: Be mindful of the times of day when hawk activity is most prevalent, such as early morning or late afternoon. During these periods, keep your chickens secured in their coop or under close supervision.
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By adjusting your practices and understanding the predator-prey relationship, you can minimize the chances of hawk attacks and create a safer environment for your chickens.

The Importance of Co-existing with Wildlife

Hawks are not just predators; they also play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Understanding the significance of coexisting with wildlife, including hawks, can help foster a sense of appreciation and respect for these remarkable birds. Here are a few reasons why coexistence is important:

Environmental Benefits of Hawks

Hawks are apex predators and play a vital role in regulating populations of rodents and small mammals. By controlling these populations, hawks help maintain balance within ecosystems, preventing overpopulation and the potential spread of diseases.

Role of Urban Farming in Conserving Wildlife

As urban and suburban areas continue to expand, many people are engaging in backyard chicken keeping and urban farming. Embracing sustainable practices and coexisting with wildlife can contribute to the conservation of natural habitats and the protection of biodiversity. It allows for the preservation of wildlife corridors and supports the overall health of ecosystems.

Ethical Responsibility

Recognizing our ethical responsibility toward wildlife is essential. As stewards of the land, it is our duty to respect and protect the natural world. By finding humane and sustainable solutions to mitigate conflicts between hawks and chickens, we demonstrate our commitment to coexisting with wildlife.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use noise-making devices to deter hawks?

A1: Yes, noise-making devices can be effective deterrents. Wind chimes, aluminum pie pans, or even a radio set to a talk radio station can create noise that disrupts the hawk’s focus and encourages it to leave. However, it’s important to rotate and vary the placement of these devices to prevent hawks from becoming accustomed to the noise.

What breeds of chickens are less attractive to hawks?

A2: While no chicken breed is entirely immune to hawk attacks, some breeds are known to be more alert and agile, which can increase their chances of avoiding predation. Breeds such as the Welsummer, Australorp, and Dominique are known for their vigilance and ability to detect and evade potential threats.

How can I help hawks find food away from my property?

A3: Providing alternative food sources for hawks away from your property can help reduce the likelihood of them targeting your chickens. Setting up bird feeders or creating habitat features, such as perches or open fields, can attract small mammals and birds that hawks prey upon, diverting their attention from your chickens.


As chicken owners, encountering hawks attacking our flock can be a concern. However, shooting a hawk is not a viable or legal solution. Understanding the laws protecting hawks, implementing non-lethal deterrents, and modifying chicken coop security are essential steps in safeguarding your poultry.

By coexisting with wildlife and embracing responsible practices, we can create a harmonious environment where both chickens and hawks can thrive. Let’s prioritize the well-being of our chickens while appreciating the important role hawks play in maintaining ecological balance.

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