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Hawk Talk: Ask an Expert – Raptors Foraging on Corn?

I watched a hawk within 30 feet of me forage on corn for thirty minutes. There is no question in my mind that I saw this hawk foraging on the corn. As far as I have ever known, hawks are strictly meat eaters. It is appreciable that the hawk was doing its best to survive; however, the temp was 52 degrees and I saw many squirrels, mice or moles, turkeys and numerous song birds, all of which seemed readily available. Has this hawk been imprinted in a fashion? The hawk was not selecting pebbles/gravel to assist in digestion as I witnessed corn falling from its beak as it cracked it and foraged on its remnants. Are you aware of similar circumstances? Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

This sighting was on the December 9, 2011. The temp was 52 degrees at 0810 a.m. and I was approximately 100 miles from the Atlantic Coast in North Carolina. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.


Juvenile raptors, particularly Northern Harriers, will ‘play’ with corn cob pieces in fields after the harvest. They are not eating the corn but will harry the field then drop down as if capturing a meadow vole, and go through behavior motor sequence of taloning, dispatching and biting. They will fly off with the piece, sometimes drop it and ‘recapture’ it. They seem to enjoy this behavior which is most common in the fall of the year. They select cobs that are broken in pieces about the size of a meadow vole.

This harrying-capture-kill motor sequence is, perhaps, part of a developmental phase as they perfect their hunting style or technique. Since animals learn adaptive strategies and also learn from one another, it is possible that they do this for fun at times when the prey base is sufficient and they can afford the metabolic cost….the act of practicing hunting skills outweighs the metabolic cost. It can easily look like the hawks are hunting and eating corn! We also have observed juvenile Cooper’s Hawk catching, killing, and shredding pine cones as they hone their hunting prowess.

One Response to “Hawk Talk: Ask an Expert – Raptors Foraging on Corn?”

  1. Johnny Walker says:

    I have a what I think is a young redtail hawk on my game camera sitting on ears of corn I put out for crows. He is surrounded by vultures! I also have other shots of him “guarding” the corn with crows around. Since I didn’t see it live I can’t say whether he was eating the corn or not but he hung around for several days. I have seen a lot of hawks in Oklahoma but never one on corn or what appears to be socializing with other birds.

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