Owl Things Considered, Is Hawksteria Claws For Concern?

Yvonne Burbach

Do you remember in 2012 the eagle that swooped down from the sky to snatch a Montreal baby in the park, flew off, and dropped the baby several feet away? That buffoonery was actually 3 students taking 3D animation that came up with the idea, knowing babies and animals make popular videos. Their teacher wanted something to get 100,000 YouTube views. The students got more than 5,000,000 views.

I have dealt with many calls over the years with people concerned about hawks or owls preying on their pets. Few people have actually lost a pet to a hawk or owl. Like most predators, birds of prey are opportunistic and generally unwilling to risk injury to a prey item that is likely too big or threatening. That being said, small dogs and kittens are easy prey for most predators. A hawk or owl doesn’t see a kitty or rabbit, it sees a meal for itself or it’s young.
For owl I know, aerial carnivores that prowl the skies are in search of appetizing 4-legged furry or 2-legged winged meals. They are not picky with what they eat: reptiles; insects; fish; mammals; carrion; they even eat skunks! That’s right. With the exception of vultures, birds have a poor sense of smell and don’t even know skunks stink.
Are we really to believe there’s a legitimate suburbia terror furtively soaring above our homes? Are our backyards a battleground in the war of domesticity? Should we as pet owners be paralyzed in fear when we let our puppies out to peepee?
Aeronautical transients – specifically the great horned owls {GHO}, northern goshawks, and red-tailed hawks - are Missouri’s largest birds of prey that people have said lashed out at small dogs and cats. One can’t help but marvel at the hunting prowess of birds of prey. A natural question may occur to some nervous pet owners: just how much weight can these Whooters carry?
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology states some 3-pound red-tailed hawks are able to carry prey weighing 5 pounds, including adult cats and smaller breeds of dogs. Myself, owning two of the largest species of owls - Eurasian eagle-owls {EEO} whooo weigh 9 ½ pounds - have over 600 food sources in the wild. Their favorite food sources are the 25-pound roe deer, and a small Eurasian mountain goat, an Ibex weighing around 30 pounds. They grab the Ibex by its leg from a cliff, carry it a short distance through the air, and drop it. Once it hits the ground, the eagle-owl dives to its kill, and blasts off with large sections of the prey to its cliff nest.
Missouri’s largest owl is the GHO, whose ears are extremely sensitive to any slight movement - they locate prey in 30 millionths of a second. The force by which GHO talons are closed is measured at 28.7 pounds - equal to a German shepherd’s bite force. These birds’ talons are the sharp, hooked claws at the end of their toes – the tips are like hypodermic needles. The inside of some talons feels like a razor blade that pierces the prey’s skin and slices into their victims for that mortal wound.
Notice ear tips atop the head on the authors’ eagle-owl (pictured). These aren’t the birds’ ears, as they are to the side of the eyes and covered with feathers. These ear tips serve as visual signals to other family members; erecting the tufts of feathers makes the bird appear to be larger to enemies, and helps direct sound to the ear canals. Every ear-opening has a movable flap owls open and close independently, to hear more efficiently. New research shows an owl can hear a spider in the grass 100 yards away – the length of a football field. So if an owl is on the next block and you put Fido outside, the bird will hear your door shut, and the dog whiz. AND most owls have a silent flight; you wouldn’t hear it fly by but you could feel the wind created by its wings.
On rare occasions, one of these raptors will catch a small dog or cat. A 5-pound dog is no bigger than a large rabbit. But let’s face it…they aren’t the only predators out there that will. Coyotes, foxes, and bobcats take their share of free-roaming cats. Predators don’t differentiate animals for favorites – it’s merely a meal to feed themselves or their young. Typically owls don’t like the taste of cats. These birds won’t capture our pets on a preferential basis. We need to realize our personal animals are not exempt from the food chain and owls or hawks are not the only animals that will eat small pets if given the chance. On the flip side, most cats and some dogs also kill wild animals (mice, shrews, lizards, snakes, and lots of birds including small owls. So it’s better for all involved to keep cats inside and dogs on leashes.
Here are tips on how to deter owls. If you’re feeding wild birds feed specific food for specific species to avoid attracting birds you don’t want and cut back on feeders. Try noisemakers, alarms, horns, or whistles if you don’t want one bird of prey around. Try a bright light. Shine it on the owl at night. Install a scarecrow. Put a collar with a strobe light on your cat or dog. Feed your pets inside your home so predators aren’t attracted to the food. If you have a fruit tree, pick up any fallen fruit that has been on the ground because that will also get the attention of predators – even raccoons, skunks, and opossums which will attract larger predators like these winged wonders. A dog run/kennel with a roof will also protect small dogs, not just from hawks and owls, but also from other predators like human dognappers.
My friend Mark McKellar, owner of Backyard Bird Center on Barry Rd., when asked about this stated that 5-pound dogs like Chihuahua’s, Yorkie’s and Maltese, should not be let out by themselves - especially at 4 AM. By that time of the night, owls are getting hungry if they haven’t caught anything and the birds are bolder. Mid-August begins the peak migration season, so raptors migrating could present a significant danger. Or if you have hawks that nest nearby, seriously consider getting a second dog. Hawks are far less likely to attack one dog when another, even one equally small, is nearby.