Keeping a hawk over winter

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NetSquirrel | 02:58 Sat 18th Dec 2004 | Animals & Nature
12 Answers
Since this summer my brother has been keeping a Harris hawk in a small aviary in the back garden, flying her every week or so and feeding her most days. This appears, on the whole, to be fair to the bird and does not appear to have caused any unnecessary distress to her. However, as the weather has gotten colder the hawk has started to screech a lot, especially when she sees someone. This has been going on for at least two months, and now the screaming has become louder, more urgent and she's doing it more often. She will also jump off her perch and grip the wire mesh that forms part of the aviary, apprently to get a better view, and then hop back. She screeches a lot whilst doing this, and is doing it so often now that it is spoling her tail feathers. To get her tail feathers into shape before a flying day , my brother now leaves her outside on her perch overnight in the cold and the wind, and the screaming is worse.

Now, to my point. Is it normal to treat a hawk this way over winter and, more importantly, is it distressing to the bird? My brother says that it is normal for a Harris hawk to scream "for the first year" until they get used to things. What do you think? I am close to contacting the RSPCA if things don't improve. He's had literally hundreds of exotic pets over the last few years and sadly none have been given what I would call adequate living conditions, and few have lived very long. I just don't want this to happen again.


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NetSquirrel, I can understand your concern for the welfare of the hawk, particularly as you say that your brother has has numerous 'exotic' pets in the past that have perhaps not been kept in suitable conditions, and have met an early demise.


Personally I believe that these sort of animal or bird should only be kept after adequate research into their care, which means reading books, talking to other owners, pet shops etc to get a good knowledge before even attempting to own one of these animals. It may also be that your brother needs a licence to keep the bird


Have a look at these sites

They all give very good information about keeping birds of prey.

I'd suggest trying to talk to you brother about your concerns, but if that's not possible and you have serious concerns for the birds welfare, then yes, I would call the RSPCA and ask for their advice.


Good luck.

I would have thought it needs to fly everyday, hence the clinging on to the bars and screaming because it cant get out. My friend kept Hawks/Owls etc & a Fox broke into the aviary and killed them.

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I'm not an expert, but I think all birds should be 'free to fly'. That's why they were born with wings. 

Personally, as you say that your brother has lost most of his 'pets', I do not believe he should be keeping the hawk.  Birds and exotic pets need specialist care.  I think a visit from the RSPCA would be in order.  Perhaps you should phone them anonymously to report him.  I don't think they would prosecute because he has not been cruel, but they might offer him some advice and at least he will know what he should be doing.  They might also take the bird away and put it in a proper sanctuary - no bad thing. 


Please do something, otherwise the poor bird will probably go the way of the other animals he has kept.  Birds are so intelligent and need plenty of flying and things to occupy them.  The hawk is probably very lonely.

This is a cause for  great concern NetSquirrel, and I believe  you are showing the kind of  responsible attitude which is clearly not shown by your brother.


The first point is does your brother belong to a Falconer's association and does he have a licence? The law is sadly very 'iffy' in this country but if there is any reason to suspect cruelty then it will come down on him like a ton of bricks - and rightly so!

Most Falcons are bred in captivity and it is strictly prohibited to acquire one from the wild, having said that there are still many unscrupulous dealers that will happily sell these foreign birds to just about anyone as long as the money is forthcoming. Harris Hawks come from the US so do make sure you know the origins of this poor creature. A screaming animal whether it be fur or feather is a sure sign of distress, and a raptor that has damaged the very feathers that it needs to hunt is far removed from what nature intended.

My inclination would be to contact the RSPCA but first do be aware of all the circumstances. This site might be helpful :

Question Author

Thank you all for taking the time to answer.  I should also apologise for making my brother out to be some sort of ogre - this is not the case.  Before buying the hawk (she is called Tess) he did spend a week with a professional, who taught him how to care for the hawk, and the basics of training her to hunt.  He has the proper equipment, and a freezer full of small animals for food.  In fact, until now there have been relatively few problems (Tess was even silent for the first month).  The problem though, and this has always been the case, is that I think he genuinely does not know when he is being cruel.


What I will do is try to contact some professional hawk trainers or breeders and ask them how they treat their birds during the cold months.  Ideally I would like my brother to hear some advice from a professional, as there is no chance of him listening to me!


Thanks again, and happy Christmas!

My father-in-law keeps two harris hawks outside all year and he lives next door to one of the most knowledgable raptor keeper / breeders in our area. He gets all his advice from this guy and wouldn't do it if it were cruel. Both of his birds scream at anybody or any dog / cat that walks past the aviary, other than that they are quiet so it could be you that they are screaming at. I also seem to recall that his birds start building nests at this time of year.
firstly the hawk should be kept in an aviary which is the size of her wing size doubled,length and width which she can fly free in whilst she is in moult as she shouldn't be flown when moulting. Your brother should be flying her every day unless she's in moult or unwell,he should most certainly be feeding her every day,she should be at a certain flying weight and her food weighed every day to maintain that weight,adding more food when she is too keen and less when she doesn't seem interested untill a good flying weight is found. It sounds like she may be too hungry,keen,if she is flying at the bars,which can do more damage than broken tail feathers,it can also damage talons and tendons.Was she hand reared? if yes she may be flying at the bars as she will see your brother as her parent and will be expecting a feed,this will also be why she screams.To stop her flying at the bars,teather her on a bow perch in a mews or hang a neting over the outside bars of the cage so she can't see people walking past.If she is to sit on her bow perch in the aviary then the perch should be set away from the bars so she can't reach them. She should NEVER be left outside at night! This is not a good way to treat any bird of prey,you need to have alot of knowledge and understanding of the bird in your care.In the winter she should be kept in a clean and warm aviary with a solid roof,mesh at the front and solid sides,you can even add a heater under her perch or keep her in a good sized,bird safe shed.She should have a tray of water on offer all times for bathing,especially in the summer when she may need extra fluid.
when a hawk screems basically its saying im the boss. The hawk will see your brother as the boss but anything else must be challenged thats what its doing, as for the cold weather the hawk can survive in much colder conditions than the good old scottish winter.

i live in scotland, my next bird will be an eagle.
when a hawk screems basically its saying im the boss. The hawk will see your brother as the boss but anything else must be challenged thats what its doing, as for the cold weather the hawk can survive in much colder conditions than the good old scottish winter.

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