For the Birds Radio Program: Dogs vs. Hawks and Other Predators
Last week I got four emails from people around the country worrying about their small dogs because, in once case, a Great Horned Owl family was living nearby and in the other cases eagles or large hawks were hunting in the neighborhood.
As the owner of a little dog, I completely understand their concerns. When I was birding with Photon at Crex Meadows a few years ago, a Bald Eagle dropped down, scrutinizing her, and even though I knew she was perfectly safe since I was close by, it still gave me a creepy feeling to see this huge bird studying my dog with a culinary eye.
I’d love to be able to reassure people that there is no way an eagle, large hawk or owl would take their beloved little dog or cat. Statistically it is rather unlikely, but that’s like saying to go ahead and finish that round of golf despite the lightning storm. The truth is, we breed some companion animals to adapt easily, in size and temperament, to indoor life. In adopting these pets, we essentially assume the responsibility of protecting them from danger. It’s only prudent to keep them indoors for the most part if we live in an area with large hawks or owls, bears, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, or other natural dangers. Even deer pose a danger to little dogs—a gang of them hung around in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, staring down Photon as if challenging her to come close—apparently they’ve taken to kicking and severely wounding or even killing little dogs. Of course, nature isn’t the only danger outside dogs face. In my own backyard in Duluth, Photon was once snatched away by a neighborhood kid. And the biggest danger of all for pets loose outdoors is from automobiles. If a pet does disappear, most of the time there is little or no evidence establishing for sure what took it.
As humans take over more and more natural habitat, there are fewer and fewer places for natural creatures, including predators, to live. At the same time, we’re losing more and more of our awareness of how important the balance of nature is, not only for its own sake but in order to ensure clean air and water and uncontaminated food for ourselves. But the truth is, providing quality habitat in our backyards invites in more than just lovely and tuneful songbirds and butterflies—feeders attract raccoons and bears, gardens attract deer, hummingbird feeders attract wasps, and raspberry bushes and brush piles attract skunks We need natural predators and scavengers in a macro sense even as we need to protect our little dogs from them.
A fenced-in yard will protect little dogs from many dangers, but not from some of the biggest ones, especially raccoons, bobcats, hawks and owls, or, for that matter, from dognappers. Hawks are the least likely of all predators to harm little dogs, so daytime is the safest time to leave dogs outdoors unaccompanied, though eagles who develop a taste for Tex-Mex occasionally do figure out that Chihuahua-sized dogs make tasty dining. There are far too many dangers outdoors at night to leave small dogs out when you’re not at home, and day or night, it’s important to respond quickly if you hear unexpected barking or yelping.