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Hawk Talk: Ask an Expert – Do Hawks Bury Their Prey?

I live in San Jose, CA. Our subdivision is about 7 years old and is in a fairly rural area. We are surrounded by a lot of open area. We have seen deer, elk, turkeys, coyotes, fox. We also have a lot of pigeons as well as hawks and owls. Recently, as I returned home late one afternoon, a hawk flew out from behind my rose bushes with something hanging from it’s feet. I watched it land on a neighbors fence and I approached it for a closer look. It dropped it’s prey and flew off allowing me to see that if was a pigeon. It was missing one wing and it’s head was gone. The next morning the pigeon was gone. Today, while working in my back yard, I noticed some feathers sticking up out of the ground where I had recently removed a small shrub that had been ruined by gophers. I used a shovel to un-earth whatever it was and discovered that it was in fact a pigeon that was missing it’s head and one wing. I have to ask the obvious question even though it sounds ridiculous to me. Will a hawk bury it’s prey? Or is it more likely that a hawk killed the pigeon, left it for something else to bury in my yard? Both seem unlikely to me as our yard is well fenced. Any ideas?

Osprey with fish © Doug Brown
No reproduction of any kind without written permission.

Raptors almost always consume the head of a prey animal first, so my guess is that either a hawk or an owl was the culprit. The most common urban nesting raptor is the Cooper’s Hawk, although in California, you also have a large population of Red-shouldered Hawks. Both of these species prey upon birds and Rock Pigeons are one of their primary prey items. It is possible that the hawk was disturbed while eating its meal and abandoned it, or that it stashed the food so it could later recover it. Some raptors routinely stash food while others do not. A fence makes little difference to a raptor.

As one who feed songbirds in my back yard, the Cooper’s Hawk is a regular visitor, hoping to cash in on an unwary House Finch or House Sparrow, since I don’t have many pigeons here. Watching the hawk randomly run into a shrub or beneath vegetation in an attempt to flush out a songbird is thrilling to watch. Usually, the songbird gets away as raptors capture food only in about 2 of every 10 attempts.

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