Backyards for wildlife: Raptors patrolling your yard

By Kathy Garza-Behr - ODNR Division of Wildlife

Bird lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike enjoy attracting birds to their properties. One reason is because it doesn’t take much to bring a bird in. This is easily accomplished by adding a food or water source, nest boxes or natural structure, or perching areas.

A host of birds can be attracted daily or seasonally, and both migrants and common backyard birds provide hours of enjoyment. This includes birds of prey, or raptors. If you want to attract raptors to your property, increase your chances by providing nesting areas, perches, and cover. Those with wooded or forested property may not need to add cover areas, but adding nest boxes attract breeding pairs. Also, keep the human and pet disturbance minimal in the area to encourage a raptor to stick around.

These birds often show up when an easy meal is available. For some raptors, that meal consists of smaller birds. Species such as the Cooper’s hawk and sharp-shinned hawk feed on other birds. It is possible that one or more of these predators might consider your winter seed station as a hunting grounds, preying on the songbirds that visit the feeder. This is a natural and normal part of the food chain. Remember that the raptor won’t eat all the birds, because the survivors wise up to the aerial threat and avoid the feeder for a time. The songbirds return once the hawk moves on.

Larger raptors, such as a red-tailed hawk or red-shouldered hawk, provide benefits to landowners because they consume rodents. Rodents are attracted to seeds from a feeder, garden plants, fruit trees, and outdoor garbage cans. They can cause damage to crops or gardens if left unchecked. Rodents always thrive in grassy areas or fields; mowing in the early spring or fall helps the raptors spot a potential meal. Look for the reddish-orange tail of a red-tailed hawk, the most common raptor in Ohio and the eastern U.S. A red-shouldered hawk is a vocal bird that is found near large trees and water. Red-shouldered hawks are increasing in some areas as food and habitat become available.

Remember that some raptors are highly migratory and might only stay in your backyard for a short time. The osprey, for example, travels as far as South America to overwinter. The fish-eating birds can be locally prevalent in the summer, but disappear in the winter. Conversely, the northern harrier, a low-flying hawk with long wings, breeds in Canada and the northern U.S. These birds hunt for small mammals over grass fields in the winter.

Fortunately for us, Ohio has a wide diversity of raptor species to observe and enjoy. This includes the bald eagle, seen often by those of us who live by a lake, river, or reservoir. Pasture areas are attractive to smaller birds such as the American kestrel. You might even spot a rare gem, such as a golden eagle or a swallow-tailed kite. To learn more about raptors of Ohio, go to or request the Raptors of Ohio Field Guide by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE (1-800-945-3543).

By Kathy Garza-Behr

ODNR Division of Wildlife