Raptors Role in Bird Feeding

For many birders, the sight of a hawk or falcon soaring over their feeder is a gut-wrenching, nervous experience and a reminder of the harsh reality of nature. For others, however, a raptor's flight can be captivating, and finding one in their yard can be a rewarding discovery. Raptors can be an unexpected benefit to your feeder and sanctuary, but also a reminder to responsibly place your feeder.

Raptors offer security and other benefits to your birding sanctuary. Birds of prey, along with many other creatures, have suffered from habitat loss. This habitat loss has forced mice, rats, and other rodents to search for food and shelter elsewhere, often in suburban areas. Raptors have followed these prey animals to feed on them out of your backyard or garden, keeping the pests under control without needing manmade traps or pesticides. Additionally, recent studies suggest that songbirds nesting near birds of prey have stronger, more viable offspring than those who do not. The roosting hawks or falcons prevent other predators, such as snakes and raccoons, from disturbing the nearby songbirds. As the songbirds do not spend as much energy protecting the nest, they are able to obtain more food and have stronger offspring.

Falcons and hawks will frequent bird feeders if they feel there is a readily available food source. You can practice responsible feeding of both songbirds and raptors to prevent avian casualties. Raptors usually soar downward from a height or a perch to grab their prey, and quickly fly upward with it in their talons. Placing your feeder near or amidst shrubs will offer a hiding place for songbirds. Avoid larger trees, as those offer a perfectly concealed perch for many raptors. Also, if a hawk or falcon appears around your feeder often, you may want to remove the feeder for a few days, and place it back out at a later date. Wild birds are used to fluctuating food supply, and will look for seed elsewhere. This will usually cause the raptor to leave as well. Putting the feeder back out after a week or two will invite the songbirds back often without the bird of prey.

Hawks and falcons are typically seen by birders only as threats to songbirds. They are a harsh predator of songbirds, but they also offer many benefits. By protecting songbird nest sites from other predators that easily raid nests, by culling weak and slower birds, and by removing pests that compete for the same food items as songbirds, raptors make songbird populations stronger. These benefits have made raptors a welcome visitor to many birding sanctuaries. For those birders that want to exclude raptors, it is possible to exclude them from feeders with strategic placement and avoidance tactics. Raptors play an important role in the ecosystem, much like any other bird. Take a second look at these controversial birds next time they make an appearance in your garden. Remind yourself of their role as protector and pest manager, and enjoy the captivating experience of seeing one take to flight.