The red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a raptor commonly found throughout North America. Though not traditionally migratory, hawks may move south in winter. They are one of the largest hawks, weighing two and four pounds, with up to a five-foot wingspan and a lifespan of 10 to 21 years. With their sharp talons and beaks, red-tailed hawks may be a nuisance or actually threaten the lives of small animals in your yard; Prey includes small rodents, but they will also readily go after rabbits, snakes, lizards and possibly small domestic animals like kittens or puppies. In some rural areas, they are referred to as "chicken hawks," since they have been known to kill chickens in barnyards.
Do not attempt to kill a hawk, because it is illegal. The birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (See Reference 4), which strictly prohibits the capture, killing or possession of hawks without special permit. United Wildlife Control, which emphasizes safe and human control, says that "frustration killings" often occur, "because landowners are unfamiliar with or unable to control damage with non-lethal control techniques. These killings result in the needless loss of raptors, and they may lead to undesirable legal actions." (See Reference 3) You may be able to obtain a shooting permit, however, if you can prove that a hawk presents a threat to public health and safety or livelihood. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies may also issue shooting permits for "problem hawks and owls if non-lethal methods of controlling damage have failed or are impractical and if it is determined that killing the offending birds will alleviate the problem." (See Reference 5)
Mount a decoy in your yard. In 2009, Absolute Bird Control began marketing a unique product called the Bird-B-Gone Hawk (See Reference 2). It is a plastic, handpainted decoy which can be hung from a tree or post, or filled with sand to weight it down and mounted atop a structure. Absolute Bird Control claims that hawks will see the decoy hawk and, since they are highly territorial, move on to another, unclaimed area where they have a better chance of finding food.
Erect an electric pole shocker. When a raptor lands on the pole, it will receive an electric shock and be repelled (however, it could still build a nest nearby). Other perching sites in the area should be removed or made unattractive. United Wildlife Control, which emphasizes safe and human control, even advises this method, recommending that you install electrical shocking units on top of 14- to 16-foot poles around your yard at 50- to 100-foot intervals. Energize the shocking unit only during daylight hours for hawks (See Reference 3).
Modify the environment by removing small animals that might appeal to hawks, including chickens, rabbits, cats, small dogs, snakes and rodents. Build a pen with a poulty wire around a wood frame for chickens and rabbits, or keep them inside a coop or hutch. Small dogs and cats should not be allowed to roam freely in the yard without supervision. Kill mice, rats and other rodents with appropriate poisons (this will also get rid of the snakes that feed on rodents).
Try pryotechnics, which are loud noises or explosions. Shell crackers are popular. United Wildlife Control describes them as "12-gauge shotgun shells containing a firecracker that is projected 50 to 100 yards...before it explodes." (See Reference 3) Check with your local fire warden first about the legality of owning and setting off explosive devices, and to determine if you need a permit.
Trap the hawk. You must have a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and usually the local state wildlife trap on top of each pole. The jaws must be well padded with surgical tubing or foam rubber and wrapped with electrician's tape. Run a 12-gauge steel wire through the trap chain ring and staple it to the top and bottom of the post. This allows the trap to slide to the ground where the bird can rest. Some states prohibit the use of pole traps. Jeremy A. Buck and Randall A. Craft (ref 6) offer detailed instructions for building walk-in trap designs.