Hawks, owls, and other birds of prey are some of the most universally beloved animals in the world. Who among us can watch them soaring high in the air without feeling awestruck?
Owners of small dogs – that’s who.
Despite the beauty hawks and owls display and the important ecological roles they fill, birds of prey represent a potential threat to every small animal dwelling within their territory.
They may typically prey on rats, rabbits, snakes, and other birds, but they’ll gladly expand their menus when the opportunity arises, or their normal food sources are scarce.
And this means your little dog may be in danger every time you leave the house, as many hawks and owls are potential dog predators.
But there are a few things you can do to help protect your pint-sized pooch from these formidable birds.
We’ll discuss a few of the best ways to protect your dog from predators, we’ll identify the birds that represent the biggest danger to your pooch, and we’ll explain how to scare away hawks, owls, and other birds of prey.
How to Protect Pets from Birds of Prey: The Basics
Hawks, eagles, owls, and other birds of prey are formidable predators, who are quite skilled at doing what they do.
In fact, they’ve evolved the ability to deal with a variety of different prey species over time – some have even been recorded attacking porcupines and other armored prey. So, they obviously represent a serious threat to small dogs.
This means that one of the first things you want to do is discourage them from hanging out around your home and property. A few ways to do so include the following:
1. Tidy Up Your Property
Yard debris provides hiding places for mice, rats, frogs, and snakes – all of which may serve as food for birds of prey. So, do what you can to keep your yard neat and tidy. This is a great rule for coyote-proofing your yard too, as they are similarly attracted to these critters and may enter your yard if rodents are nearby.
This will hopefully reduce your local rodent population, thereby reducing the appeal of your property to hawks and other big birds.
2. Implement a Pest-Control Program
It may be necessary to take further steps to reduce your local rodent population if tidying your yard doesn’t have the intended effect.
You’ll never get rid of all the rodents in the area, but you can often keep their populations in check. Just be sure that you (or the pest control company you hire) use pet-safe traps that won’t harm your dog.
3. Prune Nearby Trees
Hawks use trees for nesting, but they also use them as hunting outposts. They’ll sit on conveniently situated branches for long periods of time, scanning the ground below for catchable critters.
So, hire a tree service to prune your trees and remove those branches that’ll make good perches. Just be sure to do so during the non-nesting season.
4. Get Rid of Your Bird Feeders
Bird feeders not only attract songbirds, they often attract squirrels, chipmunks, and rats too.
And when you concentrate all of these creatures in a small area, the local hawks and owls will definitely take notice and begin patrolling the area.
This means that you may need to take down these feeders if you’re worried about your dog being attacked by hawks or other birds of prey.
What Are Hawks Afraid Of? Deterring & Scaring Off Predators
Like many other predators, hawks and owls are always keen to avoid danger. This not only includes obviously dangerous things, like hunters and other predators, it can also include things that are simply odd or unusual.
So, there are a few things you can do to try to frighten them away or discourage their presence.
However, all hawks and owls are individuals, and some are more easily frightened than others. This means that you may have to try a few different methods or products to find one that’ll work.
A few of the best products that may help frighten off hawks are detailed below.
1. Scare Tape
About: Nobody is entirely sure why, but reflective metal tape often frightens birds, with briteNway Premium Quality Bird Deterrent Reflective Scare Tape being one of the best options available. The 2-inch-wide tape comes in 350-foot rolls, giving you plenty of slack for strips around the yard.
- Long strips can be hung on trees, awnings, or fences around the yard to deter birds, including hawks
- Metal tapes are most likely frightening to birds because they reflect light and make bizarre sounds when they blow in the wind
- Can be hooked, tied, or tacked in place
- Made of non-toxic materials that won’t harm wildlife
- Scare tape is very easy to cut and install
- Reasonably priced
- Most people found it effective at scaring away small birds and several customers mentioned it frightened away hawks too
- A handful of customers reported it didn’t deter birds at all
- Flapping metal strips probably aren’t the most attractive thing to put in your backyard
2. Bird Spikes
About: Many companies manufacture bird spikes, but we wanted to focus on two different, quality options, including EcoGrowth Bird Spikes and Bird-X Bird Spikes. Bird spikes come in a variety of styles, and they’re made from several different materials, but they all work in the same basic way: They make it difficult for birds to perch comfortably.
- EcoGrowth Spikes are sold in packs of 22 featuring 11.8-inch strips of 4-inches plastic spikes
- Bird-X Bird Spikes come in 1-foot sections that are 4.5 inches long and made of stainless steel
- Plastic is best for long-term use without rusting, while metal is more uncomfortable for birds yet at risk of rusting
- Offers an animal-safe, semi-permanent deterrent against perching birds like hawks
- Both types of spike strips appear to work in most cases, although most customers use them to deter small birds, rather than hawks or owls
- Bird-X Bird Spikes will probably be more effective at deterring large birds, but both versions are worth trying, given their relatively low cost and ease of use
- Last longer than some other options
- A number of small bird species appear undeterred by spikes (some even built nests amid the spikes)
- Can be unsightly
3. Scarecrow Owls
About: Scarecrow owls are plastic replicas that are usually used to help discourage rodents and small birds from hanging out in your yard or garden with the Gardeneer By Dalen being one of the best on the market. They may also prove helpful for keeping birds of prey at bay.
- Hand-painted for maximum realism
- Rotating head moves when the wind blows, keeping up the lifelike charade
- Owl stands about 18 inches tall
- Can be mounted in a variety of ways on branches or fence posts
- Scarecrow owls are affordable and easy to use
- Can help frighten away some of the rats and mice in your yard, reducing a hawk’s prey source
- Portable and durable
- Scarecrow owls don’t always appear to frighten hawks away
- Because hawks have good vision and are pretty perceptive, they may learn that these kinds of scarecrow owls are fake over time
4. Bird Balloons
About: Bird balloons are essentially large, inflatable beach balls. However, they are painted with large eye-like markings that often prove frightening to birds and other animals. Some – like the De-Bird Balloon Repellent – even feature tassels for additional movement.
- To frighten hawks and owls, suspend these from branches or fence posts where they may perch
- Just inflate, add the eye markings, and attach them to the desired location
- Most are waterproof and tear-resistant for ongoing use
- Often offered in sets, giving you several balloons to strategically place around your yard
- When they work, bird balloons offer a very quick, easy, and affordable way to frighten away unwanted birds
- A few customers reported that they appeared effective at keeping raptors away
- Can be brought with you as a portable deterrent
- Bird balloons sometimes appear to have no effect at all on their intended target
- May be frightening to skittish dogs
5. Hawk-Proof Netting
YARDGARD 308474B Fence
A metal wire mesh that protects small dogs from threats from above, including hawks and owls.
About: Poultry farmers have been using things like wire or netting to protect their chickens, ducks, and other birds from raptors for decades, and small-dog owners may find a similar strategy appealing, with YARDGARD a great choice if you want metal wire, while Noa Store Netting is a good option for owners who’d prefer a textile-based net. Essentially, you’ll just need to rig up a wooden or metal frame, to which you’ll attach the net to make a protective “cage” for your pup to enjoy.
- Can be used atop your dog’s existing kennel for added protection against hawks
- Also prevents other predators from accessing your pets, though some metal is much more effective than nylon in that respect
- Offers coverage without blocking out the sun
- Packaged in large, flexible rolls, allowing you to shape the material to your dog’s enclosure
- Both YARDGARD and Noa Store Netting received good reviews from people who tried them
- Both appear effective for deterring a variety of different predators, including hawks and foxes
- While constructing an enclosure with these materials will certainly be a big project, both materials are easy to work with
- Unless you build a small enclosure for your pet, you may find that wire or net enclosures are pretty expensive to construct
- Hawk-proof netting or wire may ensnare an attacking hawk, requiring you to contact a rescue group or wildlife control official to free the bird
Raptor-Proof Dog Vests
Hawk deterrents may make your backyard safer for your pup, but they don’t always work. For that matter, they won’t offer your pet any protection while he’s running at the park of going on a walk with you.
That’s why some dog owners turn to raptor-proof vests. These vests are designed to help protect pets from birds of prey and prevent a bird’s talons from injuring your pooch.
There are three high-quality options on the market. We’ll discuss them below.
1. Raptor Shield
About: RaptorShield was invented by company owner Bill Caruso after “Daisy,” his 9-pound pup, was attacked by a large hawk. Daisy survived, but the ordeal prompted Caruso to develop a protective garment that would help to shield dogs from the large talons of hawks and owls.
- Made of puncture-resistant polycarbonate
- Attaches with two adjustable straps that secure with Velcro (one under your dog’s neck and one under the belly)
- Available in 4 sizes for dogs ranging from 2 to 22 pounds
- Made in the USA
- Most pet parents report that dogs don’t seem to mind wearing it and can move comfortably
- Adjustable straps allow for a comfortable fit
- Velcro connection makes it easy to put on and remove
- Velcro can snag longer hair
- Pricing is high (though again, your dog’s safety is priceless)
2. CoyoteVest HawkShield
A Kevlar covering that protects your pup’s core from hawk talons when used in conjuction with CoyoteVest.
About: HawkShield is a product designed to protect small dogs from raptor attacks when used in conjunction with the original CoyoteVest. It is made from a triple layer of Kevlar (the same material used in bullet- and knife-proof vests), and it attaches to the CoyoteVest via Velcro strips.
- Designed to tear free when gripped by a hawk, giving the bird something to swoop away with while allowing your dog to run to safety
- Fit still allows for natural canine movement
- Waterproof finish okay for use during rain or wet snow
- Available in 4 sizes and 7 colors
- Triple layer of Kevlar will likely stop a hawk’s talons
- Break-away design is a clever concept
- Easy to put on and take off
- Must be used in conjunction with CoyoteShield
- Entire CoyoteVest and HawkShield combo is somewhat pricey (though your dog’s safety is priceless!)
3. Hawk Star Pet Protection Vest
Hawk Star Pet Protection Vest
A reflective vest that confuses birds of prey during the day and repels owls at night with lighting.
About: The Hawk Star Pet Protection Vest is designed to work against a predatory bird’s strongest hunting tool: sight. Its reflective material confuses hunting birds, potentially scaring them off.
- Shimmering, reflective material also improves canine visibility to cars and passersby in low-light conditions
- Machine washable, though hand-washing is recommended to extend the vest’s lifespan
- Included light can be set to flash, repelling owls at night
- Available in 5 sizes, including long-fit options
- Reflective nature is innovative
- Acts as a deterrent during day or night (with light use)
- Pup parents felt the sizing chart was accurate
- Material isn’t as durable as some Kevlar vests
- Some pet parents would prefer a second belly strap for a more secure fit
What to Do When a Hawk Attacks Your Dog
Hopefully, by implementing some of the tips and tricks discussed above, you can dissuade your local hawks and owls from picking on your pooch. But no single strategy will always prove effective, so it is important to be ready to act if your dog is picked up by a hawk.
There is nothing you can do that is guaranteed to prevent or end a raptor attack, but your best bet is to try to frighten the offending bird away. You want to convince her that your dog is simply not worth the risk and that she should look elsewhere for an easier meal.
In many cases, your simple presence will keep hawks at bay. Adult humans are much too large for a hawk to eat, and people may be dangerous. So, it is important that you always accompany small dogs when outdoors.
Walking your small dog with other people or canines can also help repel birds of prey, as more people/dogs pose more of a threat, making your little dog less appealing.
But, if this doesn’t work and a hawk actually initiates an attack, you’ll need to frighten the hawk away before she can get a grip on your pooch or fly off with him.
Even if the hawk later decides that your dog isn’t worth the trouble, she may drop him in mid-flight, which will almost certainly result in severe injuries.
In most cases, running toward the hawk while waving your arms and screaming like a banshee will frighten it off. Just try to make yourself look as big and frightening as possible.
In my time as an environmental educator, I often saw hawks snatch prey off the ground. Many times, I tried to sneak up and see what was for dinner without spooking the bird.
But this proved exceptionally difficult – even when I would creep through the forest ninja-style, the birds were almost always frightened by my presence, which would cause them to drop the food item and fly off.
So, while you certainly want to do everything you can to prevent hawk attacks from ever occurring, you probably have a decent chance of scaring away the bird if you act quickly and make a huge commotion.
Why Do Hawks (and Other Birds of Prey) Attack Dogs?
Hawks and other birds of prey don’t go around picking fights with dogs for no reason.
Dogs, like other prey animals, tend to fight back, which can cause injuries or death for the bird. So, hawks pick and choose their battles.
This means that hawks and owls usually initiate attacks for one reason: hunger.
However, hawks and other birds of prey may also launch an attack if they feel threatened by your dog or view it as a competitor.
This is usually associated with hawks that are guarding their nests and offspring. In such cases, the hawk or owl may try to drive off dogs that are within 150 feet or so of the nest.
It’s important to note that these defensive attacks aren’t limited to small dogs. Hawks and owls may even attack animals much larger than themselves in some cases. People are occasionally “buzzed” by nesting hawks and owls.
But fortunately, most of these defensive attacks do not include serious physical contact. However, when significant contact occurs, it can result in very serious injuries.
The following clip shows what it looks like when a great horned owl attacks a dog. This appears to be a territorial or defensive assault, rather than a predatory response, as that dog appears much too large for the owl to subdue.
(Don’t worry: The dog is completely unharmed in the clip.)
Note how silent the owl is while descending and how quickly the entire sequence unfolds. The lucky canine doesn’t even notice the owl swooping down behind him. Were that dog smaller, or this a predatory attack, the outcome could have had a much more tragic result.
For that matter, if that owl had simply made significant contact with the dog, she may have been able to inflict serious wounds anyway.
Birds That Attack Dogs: The Culprits
Just about any large bird of prey may decide that your pooch looks palatable. Mother Nature doesn’t have many hard-and-fast rules about what is and is not on the menu.
That said, the three species below are likely the most common dog predators:
Red-tailed hawks are incredibly common, and they may be seen in just about any habitat, including deserts, forests, fields, and the suburbs.
In fact, aside from vultures, who don’t often tangle with living animals anyway, Red-tailed hawks are likely the most frequently seen bird of prey in most parts of the United States.
These birds can be difficult for beginners to learn to identify, as they’re remarkably variable – you could see two completely different-looking red-tailed hawks sitting in adjacent trees.
Nevertheless, most red-tailed hawks have pale-colored bellies and reddish tails. This is easiest to appreciate when light shines through the feathers, as the hawk banks or turns.
Golden eagles are massive birds who often have wingspans exceeding 7 feet. They’re native to a large portion of the United States, but they’re most common in the western half of the country.
Unlike the red-tailed hawk, whose plumage often varies significantly from one individual to the next, most golden eagles look pretty similar, with dark brown feathers covering the bulk of their body, save for a smattering of gold feathers around the neck.
Golden eagles hunt a variety of different prey species, with rabbits and similar-sized mammals being their preferred prey. Nevertheless, there is at least one case in which a golden eagle attacked a small deer.
Great Horned Owls
There are a few owl species that may grow large enough to threaten small dogs, but the most likely species to give your pooch trouble is the great horned owl.
Great horned owls aren’t quite as big as golden eagles or some other gigantic species, but they still reach very respectable sizes. Some even have wingspans approaching 5 feet.
Great horned owls primarily prey on rabbits, rats, and smaller birds, but they’ll certainly consider adding small dogs to the menu when the opportunity presents itself.
Again, it is important to note that the three species listed above aren’t the only birds of prey that may try to attack your dog. These are simply the most likely species to attack dogs in the U.S. and Canada.
Bald eagles, for example, will eat mammals from time to time, but they prefer sushi. So, they probably aren’t as big a threat to your dog as their golden cousins are.
Other species pose threats in Europe, Australia, and Asia. The Harpy eagles of South America flirt with the 20-pound mark and hunt sloths. The ominously named monkey-eating eagle of the Philippines is also a big bird that represents a danger to dogs living within their range.
So, be sure to familiarize yourself with the large birds of prey native to your part of the world.
How Much Weight Can a Hawk, Owl, or Eagle Carry?
Hawks and other birds of prey are certainly formidable predators, but they are actually smaller than most people think.
Red-tailed hawks and great-horned owls usually weigh less than 3 pounds. Bald and golden eagles are substantially larger, but they rarely exceed 15 pounds.
It isn’t clear exactly how much weight various birds of prey can carry off, as ornithologists have slightly varying opinions on the matter. It’s a difficult thing to test, so we must primarily rely on chance observations. Additionally, the wind and weather conditions at the moment will also play a large role in determining a bird’s carrying capacity.
With all of that said, the upper limits are almost certainly less than the body weight of the bird in question. And in most cases, the comfortable limit for a bird is likely less than half that.
This means that it is only the smallest dogs around that are in danger of being carried off.
It is also worth pointing out that ornithologists typically explain that immature (and therefore slightly smaller) birds are probably most likely to attack your pet, given their relative inexperience.
However, birds of prey don’t always carry off their dinner. If they attack a larger animal (which does happen on rare occasions), they may eat it right there on the ground.
A large bird of prey may be able to carry off a 2-pound Yorkie puppy, but it’s unlikely that a 20-pound Boston terrier would be light enough for most birds to lift. But that doesn’t mean a hawk or owl wouldn’t try to feast on such a terrier, so it still makes good sense to provide protection to dogs this size.
Legal Issues With Attacking Hawks
It is important to note that all hawks and owls are protected by the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 USC, 703-711), which states in part (the added emphasis is ours):
it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, any part, nest, or egg of any such bird, or any product…
Further, the golden and bald eagles are both protected by additional legislation, called the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668-668d) (once again, the emphasis added is ours):
… prohibiting the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit Bald Eagle sitting in tree (16 U.S.C. 668(a); 50 CFR 22). “Take” includes pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb (16 U.S.C. 668c; 50 CFR 22.3)
This all means that you can’t kill the hawks or owls living in your backyard to protect your pooch – this is clear. But it isn’t entirely clear what authorities would do to someone who is defending their dog from an attacking bird.
Would you get into trouble for throwing rocks at an attacking hawk or hitting it with a stick? I wouldn’t think so, but I’m not an attorney.
We reached out to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and asked them if a dog owner would likely face prosecution in such cases. We also asked them what they would recommend a dog owner do when faced with an attacking hawk, but we have not received a response.
Note that many birds of prey also receive additional protection at the state or local level. This means that it is critical that you familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations in your area before adding hawk-deterrents to your land or taking any other steps to address the problem.
How Much Does It Cost to Treat a Dog After a Hawk Attack?
The cost of treating your dog after a bird of prey attack depends on the severity of the injuries.
A bird’s talons can inflict severe wounds, some of which may require stitches that cost a few hundred dollars. Your dog can also suffer from broken bones or internal injuries that cost upwards of $1000 to treat, especially if surgery or hospitalization is required. Your dog may also require prescribed medication like antibiotics or anti-inflammatories, though the costs of these are usually less than $50.
Remember: Your dog’s pet insurance may cover these costs.
Protecting Your Dog from Birds of Prey FAQ
Dealing with the threat of birds of prey is scary and confusing. We’ve wrangled up the most commonly asked questions to help.
How big of a dog can a hawk pick up?
Dogs weighing less than 3 pounds are at the most significant risk of being picked up by hawks, as the birds weigh about 3 pounds and can’t lift animals weighing more than they do. Eagles, on the other hand, weigh up to 15 pounds, leaving dogs weighing less at risk of being carried away.
Just remember that birds of prey may still attack dogs they can’t lift, causing severe harm or potentially death.
What scares a hawk away?
Hawks and other birds of prey usually are deterred by people or strange sights or sounds that can be perceived as dangerous. This includes reflective tape, scarecrow decoys (owl or human form), and balloons. Even having your small dog outdoors with larger dogs can help.
While deterrents help in some instances, they aren’t foolproof. Sometimes a particularly hungry bird will still pursue prey. This is why always monitoring your small dog outside is so critical.
Can a hawk pick up a 10-pound dog?
Since the birds weigh roughly 3 pounds themselves, hawks won’t be able to lift a 10-pound dog, but they still may seriously injure one trying. Their sharp talons can inflict a lot of damage.
However, some eagles weigh up to 15 pounds and can potentially lift and carry away a 10-pound canine.
Will a hawk try to get my dog?
If your dog is small enough and a hungry hawk or other predatory bird sees an opportunity, he may go after your pup.
This is especially true if the bird’s regular prey is low, such as during the winter. Hawks, owls, and eagles live worldwide, so no area (aside from Antarctica) is immune to this potential danger.
How can I protect my small dog from hawks?
Protecting your dog from hawks and other birds of prey starts by dissuading them from seeing your property as a hangout.
Tidy up your yard of debris that may attract bird prey like rodents or reptiles, and remove branches in trees that may make attractive perches. Eliminating bird feeders is another way to prevent large predatory birds from patrolling your yard. If you’d like to take it further, you can look into active deterrents like scare tape or bird balloons, though you must check with local laws to be sure they’re permitted.
Next, you want to always monitor your dog’s outdoor time. Don’t let him hang out outside alone. In most situations, your presence alone acts as a major deterrent against birds of prey and other predators.
That said, if food is scarce, a desperate hawk may take his chances.
To ensure your floof’s safety, only walk him on a leash or have him potty in a dog kennel with a solid roof that keeps predators out. Some owners deploy further protection with a hawk-proof dog vest like RaptorShield. These puncture-proof vests protect your dog from sharp talons.
Can I shoot a hawk attacking my dog?
We’re not attorneys, but it seems like something that may land you in hot water, legally speaking.
All hawks and owls are protected federally in the U.S. by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, while golden and bald eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
These laws bar you from killing or harming predatory birds around your property to prevent them from potentially attacking your dog, but it’s hard to say what would happen if you were defending your dog during an actual attack.
We’ve tried to ask US Fish & Wildlife, but have never received a response.
Can a hawk kill a dog?
Yes, hawks can kill or seriously injure a dog. The risk isn’t always in the dog being lifted and carried away, either, as many birds of prey attack and kill an animal in one place before eating.
Will a hawk attack a dog on a leash?
It isn’t likely, but if the leash is long or the hawk is hungry enough, it may take the risk of trying to grab your dog. Sticking to a leash that’s 6 feet or shorter in hawk hunting grounds like open fields is recommended. If you notice a hawk lingering nearby, make noise and wave your arms to further dissuade them.
A hawk or other predatory bird may swoop at you and your dog if you walk too close to its nest, too. Most of the time the bird won’t make significant contact with you or your dog, allowing you to safely leave the area together.
Do hawks attack dogs at night?
Not typically. Hawks and eagles hunt by sight, requiring daylight to get the job done effectively. That doesn’t mean your small dog is safe at night, however, as owls hunt at night. Larger owls like the great horned and great grey can pose a threat to smaller canines.
Hawk attacks on dogs are incredibly rare, but that’s not going to matter if your dog ends up fighting for his life while in the clutches of a hungry raptor.
So, this is one of those cases when it is better to be safe than sorry. Just be sure that you supervise small pooches when outdoors and try to implement the techniques or use some of the products described above.
Has a hawk or owl ever threatened your pup? We’d love to hear about the experience (especially if it has a happy ending). What kinds of things have you done to help keep your pooch safe?
Let us know in the comments below!