Animals -> Birds -> Birds of Prey -> Hawks


The Kutchin (Gwich’in) of Peel River ate hawks on occasion [1], but many cultures rejected the idea of using hawk for food [2-6]. Those who hunted hawk usually did so to obtain its highly regarded feathers, including Algonquian and Iroquoian cultures of the Mississippi Valley, the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes [7].

Many Native Americans of the Southwest and Midwest used pit-traps to catch hawks. A hunter would hide in a pit covered with brush. Rabbit meat would be used to lure the bird. As it came close to get the bait, the hunter would grab its legs. Sometimes the bird was killed for food, but more often, it was released once a few valuable feathers were taken [8].

Northwest Coast cultures used hawk feathers in arrows and tamahnous headbands [9]. The Lillooet used the tail-feathers of hawks to craft war-arrows [10, 11].

Yukon cultures used hawk feather spines to make snares and for arrows and rituals [12]. Plains cultures were known to use hawk skins, likely to have included Red-tailed Hawks and Swainson’s Hawks, stuffed with grass or hemp as ceremonial medicine bundles; these were said to have special healing powers. The Arikara made similar bundles with the skins of Swainson’s Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk. Young hawks have also been kept by families as domestic pets [8].


1.         Osgood C: Material Culture: Food. In: Contributions to the Ethnography of the Kutchin. edn. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1936: 23-39.

2.         Emmons GT: Food and Its preparation. In: The Tlingit Indians. edn. Edited by de Laguna F. New York: American Museum of Natural History; 1991: 140-153.

3.         Honigmann JJ: The Kaska Indians: An Ethnographic Reconstruction. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1954.

4.         Meyer D: Appendix I: Plants, Animals and Climate; Appendix IV: Subsistence-Settlement Patterns. In: The Red Earth Crees, 1860-1960. Volume 1st edition, edn.: National Musem of Man Mercury Series; 1985: 175-185-200-223.

5.         Osgood C: The Han Indians: A Compilation of Ethnographic and Historical Data on the Alaska-Yukon Boundary Area, vol. Yale University Publications in Anthropology Number 74. New Haven: Department of Anthropology Yale University; 1971.

6.         Honigmann JJ: Ethnography and Acculturation of the Fort Nelson Slave, vol. Yale University Publications in Anthropology Number 33. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1946.

7.         Hughes JD: Forest Indians: the holy occupation. Environ 1977, NO. 1:2-13.

8.         Olsen SL: Animals in American Indian Life: An Overview. In: Stars Above, Earth Below American Indians and Nature. edn. Edited by Bol MC. Dublin: Roberts Rinehart Publishers; 1998: 95-118.

9.         Eells M: The Indians of Puget Sound: The Notebooks of Myron Eells. Seattle: University of Washington Press; 1985.

10.       Teit JA: Part V The Lillooet Indians, vol. II. New York; 1906.

11.       Teit JA: The Lillooet Indians, vol. Re-print of the 1906 ed; The Jesup North Pacific Expedition: Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History. New York: AMS Press Inc.; 1975.

12.       McClellan C: A History of the Yukon Indians; Part of the Land, Part of the Water. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre; 1987.

Hawks are medium to large birds of prey and are members of the same family as eagles. Like other birds of prey, hawks have a hooked beak to tear flesh, strong legs with sharp talons to grasp their prey, and very keen eye sight. Like eagles, they have broad, rounded wings and hunt mainly during the day [1]. In North America, most larger, soaring, open-country hawks are grouped together in the genus Buteo, including the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) [2] and Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) [3], whereas smaller, forest hawks are grouped in the genus Accipiter, including Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), which occupies forested areas and woodlands from southern Canada to Mexico [4].


1.         Sibley D: The Sibley guide to bird life and behavior. New York, NY, USA: Alfred A. Knopf; 2001.

2.         Preston CR, Beane RD: Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Conrell Lab of Ornithology; 2009.

3.         Bechard MJ, Houston CS, Sarasola JH, England AS: Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainson). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2010.

4.         Curtis OE, Rosenfield RN, Bielefeldt J: Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2006.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Red-tailed Hawk
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Mark Bohn of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region
Swainson's Hawk
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: own work
Cooper's Hawk
Supplier: Flickr: EOL Images
Photographer: Wayne Dumbleton