Will a Hawk Attack a Dog?

If you have a very small dog, you may be concerned about hawks and other birds of prey; could they swoop down and carry your tiny dog away? We consulted Hillary Hankey, a bird behavior expert and owner and founder of Avian Behavior International in Escondido, California, to learn more about hawk attacks on dogs and how to prevent them.

“Considering how prevalent hawks are across North America, hawk attacks on our pets are not common, and most of the claims we hear about are unsubstantiated, with only a few verified reports each year,” Hankey says.

Of the verified reports, most are from hawks defending their nests, not predating on dogs, she adds. Small rodents make up 80 to 90% of a hawk’s diet, and they are known to eat small rabbits, birds, lizards, snakes, insects, and crustaceans. Dogs, even small ones, are not typically on a hawk’s menu.

Now, a desperate juvenile hawk that is a poor or unexperienced hunter might resort to attacking a dog, Hankey says, but it’s more likely a hawk defending its nest from a dog that has come too close.

“In the latter case, the bird is not trying to eat the dog, just get them to move on,” she says.

But Could a Hawk or Eagle Carry My Dog Away?

When hawks attack prey, they swoop down and use their strong feet and talons to grab the creature and take it to their perch or nest to eat. So how much weight can a hawk carry?

Hawks generally cannot carry off more than their own bodyweight, Hankey says. Red-tailed hawks are one of the largest and most commonly seen hawks in the U.S., and they weight only two to four pounds, she says, making it highly unlikely they can snatch up even small dog breeds and carry them away. Raptors such as bald eagles and golden eagles are larger, and can carry more weight, but attacks on dogs by these birds are extremely rare.

The best plan for defending your dog from an attack by any raptor is to keep your extremely small dog close to you, and preferably on a leash. “All birds of prey generally want to avoid people unless they are defending a nest and are disturbed,” Hankey says. That said, if you live in an area where eagles are common, you may want to take additional steps:

  • Fit your dog with a spike jacket, such as CoyoteVest for dogs, or a talon-proof dog vest, like Raptor Shield.
  • Install a large owl statue or scarecrow, or use reflective bird scare tape to keep hawks out of your yard.
  • Remove bird feeders to eliminate a hawk-attracting bird buffet in your yard.

Hankey adds, “Hawks and most other native birds are federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It is illegal and unadvisable to disturb, haze, or harass them.”

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