Friday, December 03, 2010

Red-tailed Hawks vs Dogs Continued. And Mystery Farm Duck Finds a Friend

Photo Courtesy of Marshall Wolff/Daily News Staff
Boy battles hawk to save pup
So what really went on here? See if you can figure it out as we go along with other similar examples.

The Red-tailed Hawks vs Dogs conundrum all started when Sally of Kentucky and I got into a conversation off blog about reports of Red-tails or just unidentified hawks attacking and flying off with dogs being walked by humans or in human areas like back yards.

I'd mentioned that I'd investigated rumors that run rampant periodically in the City of people who claim they know someone who had their dog carried away by one of NYCs park residing human habituated Red-tails. And I'd always come up with zilch. It just hadn't happened. In fact an investigative reporter from one of the newspapers had done the same for a famous supposed case in Bryant Park. It was also unfounded.

When I'd investigated the question more generally online, I'd researched the amount of weight that a Red-tail could lift and fly away with.

Sally of Kentucky searched for actual reports of hawks attacking and flying away with dogs. She then sent me a few links to look at such as the story which included the photo that leads the blog. I then began searching the net from that angle as well.

Below is a rather egregious but common case of assumption that occurs--


As this article from yesterday's blog post produced so many responses I'm posting it again so it's handy for those who've not read it yet.

The Gusler family recently dropped off their pet dog, May, at the Pet Lodge on Tuskawilla Road in Oviedo before they went on vacation.

The manager at the Pet Lodge said the dog was left in a fenced back yard for only a couple of minutes by a dog walker.

When the dog walker returned, May was gone.

The employees at the business said with high fences, no holes in the yard and no outside access, there is only one explanation -- one of the hawks in the area carried the dog off.

"I don't doubt it because we are in Florida," the dog's owner, Deanne Gusler, said. "But in my opinion, if they know there is a chance a hawk will swoop down and get my dog, they need to be down there watching her."

The owner of the Pet Lodge said he plans put mesh wire across the top of the back yard fences to protect the dogs from large birds.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.

Didn't we decide hawks couldn't lift dogs? How about a huge owl (you can tell I can't identify most birds), or some other predator that could climb fences. Or even the dog getting out and the kennel owners not finding it. Or a human stealing the dog.

Karen Anne
Spot on Karen.


Hi Donna,
Where I live the most common cause of disappearing dogs are coyotes. Not knowing the location of the Pet Lodge it is hard to say. If it was a really cute dog, perhaps a human took it. Wiley coyote can scale or leap a VERY high fence--and dog for dinner--why not?

Excellent Betty Jo, I hadn't thought of a coyote, though as it took place in Florida, my apologies for not mentioning that yesterday, it could be. My list of possible culprits, particularly as they don't mention the time of day or surrounding ecosystem--Great Horned Owl, Bald Eagle, large snake, fox, cougar, beyond the possibilities already mentioned.

(I knew a man in California who lived in a wild area. One afternoon he was sitting by his pool, while his husky padded around on the far side of the pool near the fence. A cougar leapt over the fence, grabbed the husky by the neck, and leapt right back over the fence with the dog and disappeared into the woods. The owner said, though he missed his dog dearly he didn't begrudge the cougar. He took the enlightened stance that as he was the one who made the decision to live in the cougar's territory, he and his dog had paid the price.)


The attribution of the missing Florida dog to a marauding hawk is utterly in error. Convenient, perhaps, but physically impossible, unless the dog weighed less than about 1.5 lbs.

And it appears there were high fences surrounding the dog. That further complicates the "hawk took it" explanation. With high fences, an attacking hawk must lift the pooch rather vertically, rather than flying off at a less strenuous lower angle.

Red-tails don’t attack, kill, nor fly away with dogs, ever. A big red-tailed hawk weighs 1350 grams, which is three pounds. It can’t carry off anything more than half its weight, a pound and half. That’s a pretty tiny dog.

–John Blakeman

Well said John! A particularly good point about the fence and the flight trajectory of a Red-tail carrying something.

Remember, Faithful Readers, the photograph by Pat Gonzalez showing the tiercel eating his squirrel on the ground as opposed to carrying it up into a tree where he'd be safer? The likely reason he hadn't done it, pointed out by Mr. Blakeman, was due to the weight of the prey.

As I said I began investigating supposed Red-tailed Hawks which included news reports, all rather sensational, plus raptor forums in which the owner of a dog who'd had a run in with a raptor had sought answers.

My apologies in that I found this particular thread yesterday morning at about this time 5:30am and neglected to make a note of the site. You'll have to trust me on this one.

A woman wrote in that this huge hawk had flown down and attacked her dog in the back yard attempted to carry him away. The folks on the raptor site, hearing it was a huge hawk narrowed it down to a Red-tail or a Ferruginous Hawk as they are the largest. They asked where she lived but only Red-tails lived in her area so therefore the attacker was identified as a Red-tailed hawk. So now we "know" that the hawk was a Red-tail.

She then told them that her dog weighed 65 pounds. 65 POUNDS??? No hawk to going to be carrying away a 65 pound dog. What was going on here?

The owner then told them that not only was the hawk still hanging around the area but there were two of them lurking. The forum members somewhat dumbfounded by all this asked for a description, which was not conclusive, and then if at all possible a photograph.

I have to give credit to the dog owner, she was dogged and eventually did get a photo with enough detail for identification. The hawks in question were not Red-tailed Hawks at all, though they were hawks, albeit quite a bit smaller, which doesn't always turn out to be the case. In fact, they were Cooper's Hawks and... it was breeding season.

The Cooper's were not trying to attack big doggie to fly away and eat him, but rather were likely attempting to convince doggie to move along out of their nesting territory one way or the other.

Two clues here.

1. Even if a newspaper or the observer says it was a Red-tail hawk attacking as if it were absolute fact, it very well might not be a fact that the bird in question is a Red-tailed Hawk at all.

2. Not every raptor that takes after a dog is doing so for food but rather may be protecting natal territory. Happens to humans too and we don't think they're attempting to eat us.

When I was about 10 years old (and weighed about 40 pounds) I was walking in a field which adjoined a woods on my Great Uncle's sheep farm, when suddenly I was being bombed by a pair of Turkey Vultures. And I mean bombed! They were coming down so close that as I whirled around or twisted to avoid them, a big black wing hit me in the head. Needless to say I ran, and ran fast in the opposite direction. I told my uncle and he said, "Oh yes, they have a nest out there. They won't bother you if you stay away from that part of the field." I did.

Remember Isolde going after the clueless construction worker who insisted on standing on the scaffolding right over her head. Though human habituated that was just over the line for her. And no she wasn't trying to attack him so she could fly away with him and eat him. She wanted him out of Dodge NOW!

I then discovered a dog forum thread talking about protecting dogs and puppies in back yards from marauding hawks complete with sensational stories of disappearing canines. Now I suppose a hawk, if human habituated and really hungry might go after a teeny puppy in a back yard...but still, no ornithologist I've found ever says that RTHs go after dogs or they have never confirmed a case.

Back to the dog forum...

One dog breeder of Wheaten Terriers, a woman who seemed sensible, though afraid of marauders, said that she had a wire pen in her back yard that was covered where she kept the puppies if they were unattended by people or adult dogs. And she only let them out on their own when they weighed 10 to 15 pounds. She's never lost a dog to a hawk though she had looked out the window one day (not night) and saw that a Great-horned Owl was attempting to break into the side of the wire pen with her talons. Hmmm. She went out with her dogs and GHO went away.

By the way, I've read a number of supposed Hawk/ Dog interactions where supposedly the dog (often weighing 8 pounds or less) had been lifted into the air and then dropped. If it were a hawk, that's pretty heavy to take straight up in the air, but is it possible that if it were a hawk it was just trying to rid their territory of the dog? Or are these reports fallacious as well?

Now lets look at the news story concerning the boy and the dachshund

Weston —
By Norman Miller/Daily News Staff

WESTON - Chris Campo had to fight a wild beast for his puppy's life on Friday when a red tailed hawk tried to turn the youngster's Dachshund into dinner.
(A touch sensational maybe?)

But, a well-placed kick by Campo to the hawk's head freed 5-month-old Dimi, who quickly high-tailed it to safety.
``I took the dog out to go to the bathroom and he started to run around like he was kind of scared. I didn't know what he was doing,'' said the 11-year-old Weston Middle School sixth-grader. ``I felt a tug (on the leash), and I look back and a hawk was on the back of my dog, trying to eat him.''
While the dog was yelping, Campo stepped on the bird's wing, reared back and let loose with a kick at the hawk's head, he said. The bird did not let go at first and the hawk, dog and child started struggling until the dog broke loose and ran away.
``I didn't really think, I just turned around and kicked the bird,'' Campo said. ``My dog was being attacked.''

(Keep in mind, this took place around 4:30 in December, it would have started to get dark by then.)

From National Geographic
Owls are efficient nighttime hunters* that strike from above, and use their powerful talons to kill and carry animals several times heavier than themselves. Owls prey on a huge variety of creatures, including raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, domestic birds, falcons, and other owls. They regularly eat skunks, and may be the only animal with such an appetite. They sometimes hunt for smaller game by standing or walking along the ground. Owls have even been known to prey upon unlucky cats and dogs.
(Note there are many confirmed attack for food episodes for Great Horned Owls when it comes to cats and dogs. Why is confirmation from reliable scientists and scientific organizations so hard to find?)

*According to recent research, nocturnal hunters will shift to diurnal hunters with alacrity when a favored prey is or becomes diurnal.

I'm not saying there has never ( in science one avoids never as one never knows about possible weird rare instances) been a Red-tailed Hawk they may have gone after a dog for food, but I'm saying it is far, far, less common than one would think. And there appear to be no confirmed cases of NYC urban Red-tails doing it ever.

Photograph by Pat Gonzalez

Remember the Mystery Farm Duck that Pat Gonzalez our contributor from the New York Botanic Garden, has been following?

Here is an update--

For the last couple of weeks, the mystery farm duck that rules the Bronx River at the NYBG has been hanging out with a new pal. I've attached a photo.

1) Is it safe to assume that mystery farm duck is a female and that her friend who is much smaller, is a male?

2) If the above is true, should I have a box of cigars on standby for a future extended family?


Hi Pat,

I'd suggest that cigars could well be in order if the raccoons can be kept off their eggs. But ducks are one of the best examples of good ole plain sexual dimorphism, in which the male is larger than the female as opposed to raptors who are in the reverse sexual dimorphism category, the females are larger and the males smaller.

Though in this case as the species mix is "interesting", the smaller hen is very little compared with the larger male.

It looks like Mystery Farm Duck is the drake.

Donna Browne


NYC Bill said...

RE: Weight of the prey in relationship to the weight and the "wing loading" or "lift capacity" of the predator. An old adage, "If the engines are big enough, anything can fly..." is not exactly advice from the Wright Brothers, but is from other, more modern aeronautical engineers. And is not exactly pertinent to the subject at hand anyway... but nonetheless interesting. A hawk's "engines" or "wing loading" and/or "lift capacities" are not sufficient to carry away anything such as a dog (unless it a very small puppy of a very small toy chihuahua. A case in point (albeit a fictional one): In the film "King Kong" (RKO 1931), in a very famous scene, a gigantic pre-historic pterodacyl, with a wing span of at least 65 feet, attempts to carry off a somewhat defenseless Fay Wray, who probably weighs at most 110 pounds. The beast outweighs Ms Wray by at least 800 pounds, but still has a bit of trouble owing to the fact that its "lift capacity" is not up to the job... So could we close the discussion about hawks and dogs?

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this video? It is of a hawk attacking a small dog. The dog later had to be put to sleep.