City Hawk Snatches Chihuahua?

Scroll down to see the final image …

In February, I watched a red-tailed hawk eat a rat in the bare branches of a tree in Riverside Park.

Hawk stares at dead rat dinner.

A man stopped to watch with me.  A few minutes later, a woman walking a small dog asked what we were looking at.  When I told her, she said, “I used to think the city’s hawks were magnificent. Now if I had a gun, I would shoot them.”

“Why?” I asked, startled by her ferocity.

She told us a story:  One clear summer day, as she walked in the park, she saw a group of picnickers happily barbecuing and enjoying life up near 125th Street.  Suddenly a red-tailed hawk swooped low, picked up a tiny chihuahua in its talons, and soared north along the river, as the bereft owner wailed.

“It was amazing how far you could see him flying,”  she said, “with the pink leash dangling behind.”

Since then, she hates hawks.

I think I understand.  I’d certainly be devastated – and possibly unforgiving – if a predator ate my beloved dog (it would have to be some kind of prehistorically large pterosaur to choke down Esau).  But as a fellow hawk watcher said, “It’s a wild animal. It doesn’t share our morals. That’s the way it is.”

He’s right, of course, except that we don’t share our morals, either.  We declare some animals all right to eat and others off limits.  There’s no natural law to this; it’s a cultural thing (some cultures eat horses and dogs; we don’t) and an individual choice.

Some pigs, for example, are pets

Miniature pot-bellied pig in harness

and some pigs are meat.

Ham on the hoof; click picture to visit Smallcombe Farm

Surely it’s a bit much to expect wild creatures to distinguish pets from prey, when the distinction is essentially arbitrary.

If this story is true (and even if it isn’t), it brings up the fascinating issue of human-wildlife conflict in urban centers.  New York City’s raptor population, once virtually nonexistent, is growing larger.  Eggs have just hatched in the Riverside Park nest as well as in the peregrine nest down on Water Street.  We’re waiting to hear about the picturesque nest at Saint John the Divine.

Saint John's nest rests on the shoulders of a suffering saint. Photo by rbs, Bloomingdale Village blog (click photo to visit).

And any day now, the numerous other hawk and falcon nests all over the five boroughs will be home to eyasses.

Life is tough for young city hawks, and the majority will not survive to adulthood.  Rat poison, cars and disease will take a toll. But each year, enough babies survive to expand the numbers of predatory fliers in the skies over New York City.  They’ll be soaring over the streets and parks, looking for meals, and tiny dogs and cats look at least as tasty as any rat, squirrel or pigeon.  Like our suburban neighbors who are losing pets to coyotes, this story offers a reminder that we may need to adjust our behavior to accommodate the return of the wild.  So if you love your cats, better to keep them inside where they can be neither prey nor predator (songbirds will thank you).  And if you love your tiny dogs, keep them leashed and under your watchful eye, at least when strolling in Riverside Park.

I couldn’t shake the image of the hawk carrying off the poor little dog with the pink leash, so I asked my friend,  Charlotte Hildebrand, to paint an illustration for me.  And she did.

This painting arrived with today’s mail.  Thank you, Charlotte.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2011, April, Birds, Hawks, In the City, NYC Parks, Riverside Park, Wildlife/Natural History, Winter

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22 Comments on “City Hawk Snatches Chihuahua?”

  1. Alex Diez Says:

    I’ve just come back from walking my Norfolk Terrier in Central Park in the region of west 72nd street near the adventure playground just north of Tavern on the green and I watched in horror as a hawked swooped down to just inches above my dog who was off leash. At the last min the hawk decided that its prey ( my dog Dory) perhaps might be too big, she’s large for her breed and weighs in at 15lbs. The hair on my arms was standing on end for minutes after. I certainly believe the story given after having just witnessed something similar. My first reaction was much like the lady’s I thought am “I going to need to carry a gun on my morning walks with Dory” I’ve calmed down now but still have very mixed feelings about the wildlife in Central Park now. As a life long New Yorker growing up on the UWS in Manhattan during the 60’s and 70’s when Central Park was effectively dead except rats it’s been thrilling to see wild life returne but…..

    • Wow, that’s quite the close and frightening encounter. Fifteen pounds sounds a good bit too heavy for a red-tail to pick up, as (despite how massive they appear) they generally weigh under three pounds themselves. In the city, their usual prey is smaller birds, rats and squirrels, all of which I’ve seen them chowing down on. A small chihuahua or cat seems within the realm of possibility for a meal, but it’s hard a red-tail tackling anything much bigger. Still it’s interesting that the bird seemed to consider the option. I certainly understand your ambivalent feelings after fearing for your pet’s safety. I’m sure I would feel the same, especially in the immediate aftermath of such an event. Still I believe the good of wildlife returning to our city outweighs the trouble, even though it does mean that we humans may have to change how we handle/protect our pets (leashes for dogs, and not letting cats roam free). Unfortunately, my experience on line is that people’s intense feelings about their pets make it difficult to have a measured discussion about the subject. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and bringing such an interesting perspective.

  2. […] story is a repeat of one published by Out walking the dog. Her story is excellent, and I have her permission to republish […]

  3. Ann Says:

    My husband was in our backyard with the dogs and had our chihuahuas in his arms (one under each arm) a hawk flew right towards him and then veered off. It was going for our dogs. We live in Southern CA and are so fearful that one day we could lose one or them or both. We never let them outside without us and are now afraid to even let them out unless they are both on a leash. I couldn’t handle it watching a bird fly off with one of my babies. I would die.

  4. […] Walking the Dog originally commissioned the painting to illustrate Urban Hawk Snatches Chihuahua?  In that post, we pondered the line humans like to draw between meat animals and pet animals, and […]

  5. Jeff Says:

    I live in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, and I have a 4 pound 14 year old Chihuahua.

    She is house dog, but I do take her out in the fenced back yard to do her business, and one day I was watching her from my shaded back porch as she was sunning herself in the back yard, when all of a sudden a big black hawk came swooping in and came very close to snatching her in its claws. At the last moment it swerved away from her, or I’m certain she would have been killed and taken away. I think it was scared away when it saw me get up from my chair and begin to move towards it.

    Since then, I am very careful to stay right next to her while she does her business, and I keep an eye on anything flying in the sky and anything perched on telephone poles or trees while I am out there with her.

    It is up to the pet owners to be careful and keep their pets safe from these wild animals.

    • Ali Says:

      I totally agree. A few of these posts that I’ve read on here are not only insensitive but just down right idiotic.

      First of all, as a pet owner you are responsible for the well being of your pet. Just like having a child, your pet doesn’t have a choice in anything and it’s our job to protect them, feed them house them and make sure they are happy and safe. They didn’t have a choice when we took them into our home and into our life. The least we can do is give them a good life while they’re in our care. Obviously nature can be cruel and doesn’t share our morals blah blah but it is our job to protect our pets from all dangers since we are the ones AWARE of these dangers and we are the ones responsible for the well being of our animals.

      Second, if a dog were to attack or bite (even if by accident) a human or even another pet, no matter what the motive, that dog is considered a threat and will likely be put down. So why is it so wrong to want to put down the hawks that are a threat to the little dogs? The only benefit I can see from having the hawks around is to monitor the rat population (which apparently they do a terrible job of since I see rats everywhere and I live on Riverside Drive).

      I have two small pomeranians, they are the sweetest most loving dogs. They love to play in the park but now of course I’m going to be paranoid. I’ve seen these hawks up close and they are magnificent yes, but HUGE and scary.
      -Before I got my dogs I was running in Riverside Park, a hawk was standing in the path just staring at me. Part of me felt intimidated and was a bit afraid it may attack (was I trespassing near it’s nest? Who knows?) so I chose to ignore it and go about my business trying to appear as confident and in charge as possible without making eye contact. It was so close (probably 10-15 feet away) and huge (about up to my waist). It just stood there and stared at me with these intense eyes, and of course no one else seemed to be around. It didn’t seem to be afraid of me at all, it’s demeanor looked as if it was guarding something, he/she was literally standing right in the middle of the path so no one could get by. It was an experience I am glad to have… but not in Riverside Park. Yikes. I am very glad to hear your little dog was left unharmed! :)

      • Ali Says:

        UPDATE: Upon doing a little research it appears Redtails (which seems to be what we have most here in NYC) can’t carry more than about 1.5 lbs. I’m no bird expert that’s for sure, but I don’t think what I saw in the park was a Redtail. What I saw was enormous. Of course on my jog back, there was a parks dept vehicle parked where I saw the bird, and no bird. I regret not asking what it was.

        If anyone has any ideas, I’m very curious now.

      • Francesca Says:

        Ali I’ve seen that Hawk in Central Park too! I’m 5’3″ and it was up to my hips. It was huge and definitely intimidating!!! I was actually walking my two little Chihuahua’s (on a leash) at the time. LOL I was too busy walking and talking to one of my babies when all of a sudden I noticed a large black thing in the corner of my eye. I looked up and there was this Hawk. I was about 6 feet away from it (as in very close). It was staring at me with the most intense gaze. Staring at me, not my dogs. I then noticed a bunch of people around the bird, just staring at it. I immediately picked my little one up (5pds Chihuahua) and pulled my other Chihuahua (8pds) in closer. I started walking further away from the bird when I noticed it had a pigeon underneath him. (I swear that little pigeon’s eyes still haunt me. It was alive and not yet harmed.) I didn’t stay for the kill. But apparently it was something the others wanted to see. Apparently the bird had just swooped down seconds before I arrived. A sweet little old lady told me she was just feeding the pigeons when it happened. She and I were the only one’s who felt bad for the pigeon. I won’t go into the whole story, but I will say that Hawk was very very large. I’ve seen the Central Park Hawks before, but I don’t remember them being so big. This was dangerously/scary big!

  6. One of my friends pomerianians was taken by a hawk. My friend had just let her dog out to go to the bathroom in the yard and next thing she knew she was seeing her dog being taken away by a hawk. So sad :(

  7. Jozy Says:

    Thats awesome to see a Hawk take away those pesky little dogs, I hate them, haha, I seen one get picked up here took a pick and thanked the hawk as it flew off

  8. Sad to hear about the hawk issue. (St. Bernards excluded from this fear we suppose!) We will inform folks renting upper west side apartments who have mini dogs. Thanks!

  9. Hi, you have a nice blog. I also have a page about animals which, although in Germany but the top left is a menu English but also you can read everything in english. Greetings from Germany :-)

  10. Wild_Bill Says:

    Obviously hawks cannot differentiate between small dogs and other potential prey, although I understand the woman’s gut reaction. I’m glad she doesn’t own a gun, nor should be allowed to own one given her lack of understanding of how the natural world works. Great post, thought provoking

  11. May be an urban legend or not, but we need to remember nature is a harsh mistress. Animals have to feed and raptors don’t see pets or rats or mice they see a meal. Pure and simple. Answer me this question, if you hadn’t eaten for a couple of weeks and were faced with starvation. what would you eat?


  12. what a fabulous PAINTING!!!! what a great idea to commission Charlotte to paint the chihuaha in the sky as only she could paint… great post. That potbellied pig seems to be made of wool carpet…

  13. I believe the eye-witness, as I’ve heard of hawks and even owls snatching up tiny dogs here in Oregon. I can imagine that would be horrible to watch. Just the other day I saw a hawk swooping down in an attempt to grab a baby duck but there were people around and I think that’s why it flew off empty-taloned. The baby duck was one of about 15 that the mother was protecting, only about a couple days old. It was actually laying on its back with its little feet just paddling the air like crazy. I went over to try and get it righted but it saw me coming and made a final scramble, flipping upright and re-joining its mother and they all headed off to the lake.

  14. mthew Says:

    Ummm, chihuahua. Sounds like an urban myth, but I see some evidence of it in the annals of Google. Lesson: keep ’em leashed, peeps.

    • Yeah, I know, it sounds pretty suspect. But this woman reported as an eye witness, and I believed her. No evidence, though. It’s certainly possible that it wasn’t a chihuahua, but some other kind of poor wee doggie. Had to be pretty tiny, whatever it was.

      • Ag Says:

        If I recall correctly the City Parks Department used a hawk in a park in lower Manhattan to control the rat population – until it tried to eat someone’s small dog. Then the program was cancelled. It’s a believable story. Hawks will eat chickens who are bigger than some of these small dogs. I don’t blame the hawks…. people have to be more aware.

        • Ha! I’ll have to look into that story. I agree that we need to educate people about the growing presence of wildlife in our midst.

          • Mariah Says:

            True, it’s not just hawks that small dog owners need to watch out for. We have a problem with cougars here in Oregon. Dog owners really need to be aware of where their dogs are at all times and what else is going on in the environment. If that chihuahua that got flown off with really had a leash attached, why wasn’t the owner attached to the other end of the leash? If she had been, I’m pretty sure the hawk wouldn’t have risked coming that close to a person to get a meal. I’m sure it could have found a mouse or something somewhere else. Like Mthew said: Keep ’em leashed, Peeps. And I would add: Keep hold of the leash!

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