Friday, December 03, 2010

More Do Red-tails Eat Dogs Plus Bobby Horvath Will Soon Release Another Rehabbed Red-tail

Isolde the female Red-tailed Hawk of The Cathedral Church of the St. John the Divine Nest with a rodent carcass in her beak. I've observed her on and off for five years and have never seen her go into a hunting stance when even the teeniest dog walked by.

Dog nabbing by coyotes and a cynical view of the Florida Hawk-Grabs-Dog Assumption News Story from Robin of Illinois--

They [coyotes] are more prevalent than a lot of folks suspect, especially in suburban areas. I do know of two (small/toy-type) dogs who were taken by coyotes, both in plain sight of the human companion. The most recent was one in Macomb, IL, a mid-sized town, with a State University. My friend Lana's father often had deer traversing and napping on his land, in suburbia, as his land backed up to a semi-wooded area. One afternoon, taking his small dog named Dusty out for a run around the back yard, a coyote came running in and grabbed the dog, and took off. My friend's father was elderly, and pretty wobbly on his feet and could not catch the coyote, although he tried.

As to the [dog] disappearance in Florida, I suspect (cynic that I am) that the dog-caretaker lost the dog through carelessness and made up a hawk story on the spot to explain the loss of the dog.

Also from Robin--, The Horvaths do it again, another rehabilitated Red-tail ready for release, but perhaps not where it was found. (Sorry all, can't get the link small enough not to break, you'll likely have to type it in or just scroll down to the piece.)


An injured baby red-tailed hawk found in Stuyvesant Square Park in early November is finishing up his rehabilitation and is set be released next week, though not necessarily back where it was found.

Park goers who found the fledgling on Nov. 3 worried it got hurt after eating a poisoned rat. However, an X-ray determined that it had a trauma-based wing injury, said wildlife rehabilitator (and New York City firefighter) Bobby Horvath, who is caring for the hawk on Long Island.

But because of the bait laid down to curtail this park's rat problem, Horvath may not return the hawk, born in the spring, to the park where it was found.

"I know people care about it, but if you bring it back to that park, it is not necessarily in the bird’s best interest," Horvath said.

He said he was considering a couple of big parks in Queens or the Bronx as suitable new homes for the fledgling hawk.

Stuyvesant Square Park, however, has had no shortage of hawk sightings since the injured red-tailed hawk was hospitalized.

Phyllis Mangels, a resident of the area for 30 years and president of the Stuyvesant Square Community Alliance, saw her first hawk here two years ago on Thanksgiving Day.

"They started showing up in the fall, would stay a few weeks, and then come back in the spring for a few weeks," she said. "They’re very cool. And they’re not afraid of people. One was sitting on the fountain for an hour, letting people take its picture."

They’ve been spotted on park benches and picnic tables. Malgorazata "Gosha" Moseig, a Parks Department gardener who’s at Stuyvesant Square Park three days a week and Union Square two days, sees them perched up high on the Beth Israel Medical Center sign facing the parks’ eastern edge or on the Peter Stuyvesant statue.

"Since the leaves started falling off the trees, you see the hawks everyday," said Moseig. She also sees them at Union Square — once perched on the pointing finger of the George Washington statue. After that, she bought a camera and has been documenting them ever since.

"People sitting on the benches often don’t even notice," Moseig said. "You’ll have a hawk flying right by, right under your nose."

Sarah Aucoin, director of the Urban Park Rangers, said that city hawks, especially babies like the one injured last month, tend to be less wary of humans.

"Pale Male receives a lot of attention, but he is representative of 20 to 30 red-tailed hawks nesting in the city and 100 other hawks flying around on any given day," said Aucoin, noting that kestrels, peregrine falcons and screech owls now also make their homes in the city. "Hawks, especially red-tailed, have been steadily increasing over the last decade."

"New York City is a migratory fly-over area. In addition, as the environment has supported healthier prey, top predators like hawks and coyotes have made their way back," Aucoin said.

"Every park, every neighborhood has a hawk," Horvath said. "Unfortunately, the more there are, the more they’ll get in trouble."

Besides poisoned rats, feasting on pigeons also poses problems. "Some pigeons kill red-tails," he said. "The pigeons have a parasite that they are perfectly fine with, but can kill anything that eats them."

The very reason Horvath doesn’t want to bring the hawk back here is why Ellen Black, 63, who walks her two toy poodles in Stuyvesant Square Park, likes them: they eat rats.

"I won’t take my dogs into the park at night because of the rats," she said. "Some people I know were worried for their little dogs, but the hawk I saw was small. It was eating a mouse or something. It wasn’t big enough to take my dogs as far as I could tell."

(More folks fearful that their dog might hawk-nabbed.-- Robin)

Yes, some of Ellen's friends are wary but at least Ellen Black was sensible enough to compare the size of a Red-tail to her dog's size and to note the Red-tail eating a rodent. Observation can really be a big help against unreasonable fear. Let' s hope others keep their eyes open as well as their minds.

Donna Browne

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

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Urban Raptors You May See On Your Fire Escape Plus a Hawk Kill Assumption

Young Peregrine Falcon, with still a few baby feathers sticking out of the top of her head.
(Talk about focus!)
Courtesy of the Wisconsin DNR

Why a Peregrine? I asked our Anonymous contributor near Ovington Avenue over in Brooklyn what sorts of perches he'd seen the hawks on, which led to some other interesting information and I decided it might be time to recap with photographs just which species of raptors tend to have taken the urban landscape to heart, have become residents, and we may see and like to identify.

Mature Cooper's Hawk
Courtesy of

Here is Anon of Brooklyn's response to my question about perches--
The only perches I've seen the occasional hawk on is my fire escape (with the suet feeder). I don't know what kind of hawks these are but none of them appeared to have a red tail. So perhaps the hawk is either an immature Red-tail or a Cooper's hawk. Aside from the fire escape, the only other times I've seen any hawks is when they were being mobbed by angry crows.

However, the bird that wreaks the most terror is the little kestrel which zooms down in a dive bomb. All the birds--pigeons, house finches, sparrows, monk parrots--disappear in a flash.

I don't know where the pigeon coop guy gets his pigeons but almost all of them are either white or russet colored. A few of his pigeons might be friendly with the local pigeons because more and more neighborhood pigeons seem to be sporting a bit of white or russet color among their predominantly greyish feathers.

(Anon, regarding some of those bits of white and russet in the "wild" pigeon population, I suspect that when the pigeon coop owner flies his birds, as sometimes occurs, a few of them periodically decide to go off on their own during exercise, perhaps having eyed what they feel is the perfect mate while peering between the slats of their coop out their in the feral pigeon population.

Part of a game that was played by competing flock owners prevalent in the days of many rooftop coops, was to fly their flocks at the same time, hoping to tempt some of their neighbors birds into their flock at which time they'd be "sold" back to the original owner in a form of ransom.)

Photo Donna Browne
And immature Cooper's Hawk peruses a flock of sparrows passing by.

Photo Donna Browne
A crafty male Kestrel, of the species who wreak terror at Anon's bird feeder, hides a vole under his body to obscure it from a trio of foraging Crows.

Photo by Donna Browne
2007-"Little Brother" of the Cathedral Nest of St. John the Divine, son of Tristan and Isolde, watches a jazz concert in Morningside Park. A Red-tailed Hawk commonly called a Brown-tail at this age for obvious reasons. Note the brown tail with its bars and white tip.
And here a nice view of the reverse sexual dimorphism of raptors. Note Big Sister, right, and Little Brother, left of the nest mentioned above, hanging out at the softball field.

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.
(Sally of Kentucky and I have been investigating stories of hawks vs dogs, much more to come on that.)
Donna Browne