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.
Table of Contents
- Why Do Hawks (and Other Birds of Prey) Attack Dogs?
- Birds That Attack Dogs: The Culprits
- How Much Weight Can a Hawk, Owl, or Eagle Carry?
- How to Protect Pets from Birds of Prey: The Basics
- What Are Hawks Afraid Of? Deterring & Scaring Off Predators
- Raptor-Proof Dog Vests
- What to Do When a Hawk Attacks Your Dog
- Legal Issues With Attacking Hawks
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 to 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.
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
Nobody is entirely sure why, but reflective metal tape often frightens birds.
Metal tapes are probably frightening because they reflect a lot of light and make bizarre sounds when they blow in the wind. So, all you have to do is hang long strips of the tape up on trees, awnings, or fences in the desired area and let them do their thing.
There are a bunch of reflective, bird-frightening tapes on the market, but PREDATORGUARD Scare Tape is probably the best option available. The 2-inch-wide tape comes in 150-foot rolls, which is enough for about 4,000 square feet of space.
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Scare Tape is very easy to cut and install, and it is reasonably affordable too. Most of the people who tried it found that it was effective at scaring away small birds and several customers also mentioned that it appeared to frighten away hawks too.
Scare Tape seems to be a pretty effective solution in many cases, but a handful of customers who tried it reported that it didn’t appear to have an effect on birds at all. Also, flapping metal strips probably aren’t the most attractive thing to put in your backyard.
2. 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.
Once deprived of a comfy place to hang out, most birds will move off and find somewhere else to chill.
A bunch of companies manufacture bird spikes, but we wanted to focus on two different options, which both appear to work very well.
Abco Tech Bird Spikes feature relatively short spikes, and they’re made from plastic, so they won’t rust over time. They come in strips that are about 19 inches long, and they’re easy to mount in a variety of ways. You can use screws, glue, zip ties, or Velcro strips to keep them in place.
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If you’d like a more significant deterrent, you may want to try Bird-X Bird Spikes. These spikes are about 4.5 inches long, and they’re made from stainless steel. They come in 1-foot-long sections, so they’re easy to add to any fence line, and they’re backed by the manufacturer’s 10-year warranty.
- CREATES A BARRIER TO REPEL FLYING PESTS: Stop damage in its tracks and prevent birds from pooping,...
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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. The 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.
A number of small bird species appear undeterred by spikes (some even built nests amid the spikes). However, this shouldn’t be a problem for dog owners who are trying to frighten off hawks and owls.
3. Scarecrow Owls
Scarecrow owls are plastic replicas that are usually used to help discourage rodents and small birds from hanging out in your yard or garden. However, they may also prove helpful for keeping birds of prey at bay.
There are a number of scarecrow owls available, but the Gardeneer By Dalen looks like the best one on the market.
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This scarecrow owl is hand-painted for maximum realism, and it features a rotating head that will move when the wind blows. The owl stands about 18-inches tall and you can mount it in a variety of different ways.
Scarecrow owls are not only affordable and easy to use, but they will probably help frighten away some of the rats and mice in your yard too. This means they may not only scare away hawks on their own, but they’ll also make your yard less appealing to raptors in the first place.
Scarecrow owls don’t always appear to frighten hawks away. Additionally, because hawks have good vision and are pretty perceptive, they’ll often learn that these kinds of scarecrow owls are fake over time. It may sometimes be helpful to move the scarecrow owl around your backyard periodically.
4. Bird Balloons
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.
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You can use these types of balloons in different ways, but if you are trying to frighten away hawks and owls, you’ll likely find it most helpful to simply suspend the balloons from branches or fence posts.
When they work, bird balloons offer a very quick, easy, and affordable way to frighten away unwanted birds. Most people use these to deter geese and ducks from hanging out on their property, but a few customers reported that they appeared effective at keeping raptors away too.
The biggest drawback to bird balloons is that they sometimes appear to have no effect at all on their intended target. Bird balloons may also prove frightening to skittish dogs.
5. Hawk-Proof Netting
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.
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. This should prevent hungry hawks and owls from being able to access your pooch.
This is certainly a labor-intensive approach, but it will also provide more protection than anything else.
- Galvanized before weaving
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- It is made perfectly straight and flat, and stays that way
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Both YARDGARD and Noa Store Netting received good reviews from people who tried them, and they both appear effective for deterring a variety of different predators. Also, 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. Additionally – and this is no small matter – hawk-proof netting or wire may ensnare an attacking hawk. This may require 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 two high-quality options on the market. We’ll discuss them both below.
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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.
The resulting product is a puncture-resistant polycarbonate dog vest that remains attached via two straps (one goes under your dog’s neck, the other goes under your dog’s belly). The straps feature Velcro connections that make it easy to put the vest on your dog.
RaptorShield is made in the USA and it comes in four sizes, which will fit dogs ranging from 2 to 22 pounds.
Most RaptorShield reviews were quite positive. We couldn’t find any documented accounts of the vest successfully deterring a hawk, but on the flip side, we didn’t find any reports of RaptorShield-clad dogs being attacked by a hawk. Most owners found that it fit their dog well and was light enough to permit normal movement.
Aside from a few owners who experienced sizing issues, there weren’t any serious complaints about RaptorShield. A few people complained that it seemed expensive, but it’s hard to put a value on your dog’s well-being and safety.
HawkShield is a product designed to protect small dogs from raptor attacks.
It is produced by a company called Coyote Vest, which was started by Paul Mott, Pam Mott, and Nicole Mellom, after the Mott’s family dog was attacked by a coyote.
HawkShield is an add-on product that is designed to be 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.
The HawkShield then works in two ways: First of all, the Kevlar material inside the guard helps protect your dog from the sharp talons of a hawk.
Secondly, HawkShield is designed to tear away from the CoyoteVest when the hawk grips it. This way, the hawk gets to fly away with the HawkShield, and your frightened pup can then run away.
HawkShield is available in four different sizes that are designed to fit whichever CoyoteVest is appropriate for your dog.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any third-party reviews of HawkShield. However, because CoyoteVest has received pretty positive reviews from most owners who tried it, and HawkShield is designed to work in conjunction with CoyoteVest, we still feel comfortable recommending it. The triple layer of Kevlar will likely stop a hawk’s talons, and the break-away design is a clever concept.
HawkShield is about half the price of the only other raptor-proof garment on the market, but it must be used in conjunction with CoyoteShield, which means you’ll be spending a pretty penny to completely outfit your dog.
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.
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.
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.
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!