That Time of Year

Here’s a blog post recounting an encounter between a hawk (species unspecified), a chihuahua, and its owner. The owner managed to get the hawk to let go of the dog, though the dog sustained some severe injuries. The comments also bring out some anti-hawk sentiment.

A little natural history for you folks: it’s winter now. Hawks, such as the red-tailed hawk, have high juvenile mortality. Estimates run upwards of 80% of all first-year birds will not survive to next spring. So, you have a bunch of starving hawks out there, often living near humans, since we have co-opted so much of their range (see “habitat loss”). Red-tailed hawks are buteos; these birds prey on small mammals. People with toy dogs shouldn’t be too surprised when a starving hawk decides that it is worth a try to get a small mammal under less than ideal circumstances. That includes getting close to people.

The hawk that failed to make a meal out of the chihuahua? Odds are that it is dead by now, if not solely from starvation, perhaps also from injuries sustained during the dog owner’s counter-attack. For the commenter saying that he “hates hawks”, this is probably a comforting thought that so many of them are dying as we speak. The chihuahua, at 2 pounds, 5 ounces, most likely outweighed the hawk attacking it, especially if it was already malnourished.

I guess what I’d like to communicate is that we still live in a world with wildlife. If you have a small mammal as a pet, part of your responsibility is to realize that starvation makes both people and wildlife desperate. A little forethought concerning when and where one lets a toy dog outside is just something you need to invest. Close supervision of your companion outside through the winter months is the strongest deterrent you have to communicate to a raptor that it should spend its time looking for different prey.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

4 thoughts on “That Time of Year

  • 2007/12/21 at 9:30 am

    And not just hawks. Other wild animals may be looking to tangle with your pet. Coyotes are a sometimes problem here, as is the occasional bobcat. And just the other day reports came down of a fox trying to take on a golden retriever. An obvious missmatch there, and explained by the fact the poor fox was rabid. If you’re going to live cheek by jowl and crowd nature out, don’t be surprised if nature sometimes bites back.

  • 2007/12/21 at 10:34 am

    The ones that really get me are the developments in Florida that jam a bunch of houses around a picturesque pond, then get upset when the resident alligator, who has been slowly starving, attacks something.

  • 2007/12/21 at 12:28 pm

    I live in Connecticut, just a 50-minute train ride from Manhattan, and we have coyotes attacking dogs occasionally. I agree that owners should be aware of the danger and look after their animals. We need to learn to live side-by-side with wildlife.

    My own dogs are always on leash or in their fenced-in yard. They’ve never been attacked by coyotes or any other wild animal, but one time while I was out walking them a roaming German Shepherd tried to kill one of my beagles.

  • 2007/12/22 at 12:19 pm

    Yes, there’s other wildlife to beware. But I have to admit a particular interest in the raptors.

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