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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Could a Hawk Eat My Chihuahua?

"I have a very small dog, do I need to worry about hawks trying to eat him?" I do educational outreach with a friend and her marvelous birds, and this is a question that comes up quite often. Chihuahuas are very popular around here, and tons of people have a dog that weighs well under ten pounds.
falconer with hawk
Photo by Erin Koski

Do Hawks Eat Small Dogs?

Short answer: No. Though they look formidable, that bird on my fist weighs about two pounds. He eats mice, and sometimes rats. There is absolutely no way he is going to lift and fly off with my 6 pound dog. He's the same size as the most common hawk species in North America, the redtail.

If your dog weighs less than 5 pounds, they might look slightly more delicious to a very hungry bird. While there are some news reports of redtail hawks attacking small dogs, I've so far only been able to find a couple where someone actually claims to have witnessed such a thing. This one was widely reported, but the details reveal that the dog had blunt force trauma and the hawk was seen on the ground, so it's possible he could have been hit by a car before the bird found him, and it may have been defending a nest site. Several other stories involve a dog either disappearing or being found injured without anyone actually seeing a raptor.

At any rate, any sort of report like this inevitably comes with a mention that this is highly unusual. Unlike a small dog being devoured by coyotes or raccoons, a hawk attacking a dog is so unusual it makes the news. Has it happened before? Yes. Is it still bizarre? Definitely.

Owls, on the Other Hand...

disgruntled owl
Photo by Erin Koski
Great Horned Owls will happily eat your tiny dog. They are the apex predator of the skies, weighing as much as four pounds and capable of lifting and flying with three times their own body weight. They are also found all over North America and South America. They are the only natural predator of the skunk, not because they can't smell but because they Do. Not. Care. 

The good news is that Great Horned Owls are crepuscular, meaning they are active primarily at dusk and dawn. They're not particularly crazy about people, either. They generally avoid us unless they are really starving. I either keep my chihuahua inside at twilight, supervise him closely, or send him into an enclosed area with my larger and less delicious dogs to potty. 

Eagles, Too...

Eagles are not normally found in urban or suburban areas. There are rare reports of them grabbing small dogs in rural areas. Very rare. 

What Do I Do About It?

Let's say you have a super tiny dog in a rural area, and you keep seeing raptors. How do you keep your dog safe? I've heard people recommend shooting the birds, which is both illegal and highly ineffective. Seriously, these are birds. They have large territories and they can fly. Getting rid of one raptor just sort of invites more of them to your area, and there's no guarantee the one you eliminate is the one you saw circling overhead the day before.

It's best to just keep an eye on your toy breed dog when they are outside. Period. Really, if your have a three-pound dog, hawks should be the least of your worries. Supervise your wee dog to make sure they aren't stolen, lost, or picked off by a hungry coyote.

Like Seeing a Unicorn

All that said, last week at the sheep ranch, a redtail hawk did take a good look at little Ru. It made a couple of passes less than 30' overhead before departing. Being a good tiny dog owner, Ru was close enough that eating him was not worth the bird's risk. Knowing all of the above information, I was able to just appreciate this unusual encounter with a majestic animal.

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