The answer is: no.
No hawk can carry off a 12-pound pet. No hawk can carry off a 3-pound pet. The largest hawk in North America (the Ferruginous Hawk) weighs at most four pounds, so leaving the ground carrying three – let alone twelve – would be aerodynamically (not to mention logically) impossible. Red-tailed Hawks weigh about two pounds.
That did not stop a New Jersey animal shelter from publishing this rabble-rousing flyer on Facebook, all written in alarming red capital letters:
PARK RANGERS AND VET OFFICES ARE PUTTING OUT WARNINGS. THIS YEAR THE HAWKS REALLY SEEM TO BE OUT IN FORCE OFF THE EAST COAST.
THE PETS THAT ARE IN REAL DANGER ARE THE ONES WHO ARE 12 POUNDS AND UNDER. THESE ARE THE PETS THAT HAWKS CAN SWOOP DOWN AND GRAB.
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS OUTSIDE WITHOUT SUPERVISION.
One could joke about the squadrons of hawks out patrolling the beaches, or the park rangers suddenly worried about the safety of household pets, but before it was taken down the post had over 108,000 views, 4,200 Likes, and 1,000 comments. And since these things never really disappear, it’s still out there.
The frustrating responses went like this: “OMG!” “Yikes!” “I had no idea!” “How awful!” The frightening responses went like this: “Just shoot ‘em.” “That’s why we need more trapping.” “I’m going to string wire all across my backyard!”
Wildlife lovers and rehabilitators, as always, tried to intervene. “I have been caring for raptors for almost 29 years and not even a Bald Eagle can carry off 12 pounds,” wrote Eileen Wicker, the Executive Director of Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky. “Please disregard this for the rubbish it is!”
If you see a flyer such as this and you’re unfamiliar with wildlife, you can 1) believe the hundreds of people who write things like “I know for a fact a Barn Owl can carry off a 3-pound Chihuahua!” (Barn Owls weigh about a pound); 2) access fact-filled sites like the Peregrine Fund or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; or 3) call any raptor rehabilitation center, and whoever answers the phone will tell you that the information on Facebook is bunk.
There’s one more option, if you’d like to combine learning and entertainment: 4) watch this Monty Python clip, which does a fabulous job of explaining exactly what we’re talking about using a coconut, European Swallows, and King Arthur:
Once you watch it, every time someone posts about a murderous hawk carrying off twelve pounds, you’ll be able to set them straight.
One might say the heart of the person who wrote the flyer was in the right place. But they were abysmally ignorant, not only of the facts but of the damage that can be done by posting something so stupid. Predators have a hard enough time surviving without having to deal with the fallout from something they’re incapable of even doing.
This is not to say they might not take a swipe at a very tiny dog. If you have a one, be careful and use common sense. If you have a cat, keep it inside.
“All birds of prey are protected by state and federal law,” says Eileen Wicker. “If you harm one or threaten one in any manner, you are subject to a fine and prison term. Appreciate their beauty, and their value to our earth.”
All photos courtesy of Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky. Click here for more.
Well written Suzie. Stupid and uneducated things like this are dangerous. I have answered that question a number of times while monitoring Bald Eagle nests in populated areas. “No, A Bald Eagle will not take your cat or small dog.’
Thanks, Drew. It amazes me how many people think it’s fine for their cats to slaughter the local songbirds, but become hysterical at the thought of any predator taking out their cat. Cool job you have, by the way!
I abhor that cats harm and kill any wildlife.
The good news is that cats may stay indoors for fear of being taken by a hawk! 🙂
I know that a great horned owl took a chiwawa up a tree at my neighbors but I have watched a red tail try to take a duck from my pond and almost drowned until she decided to let go. The duck was alright. So guess I would say don’t trust great horned owls or other large owls.
Agreed, that would be the good news! Even better would be if the owners kept the cats in!
I don’t know everything but I do know this. One of my neighbors in Daphne, AL, had a fat chihuahua that he says was snagged by a hawk from his front yard, while he was out there with him and saw it happen. The hawk tried valiantly to carry the dog away but never got very high off the ground and eventually dropped the dog a half a block away. His chihuahua has clear scars all over his back from the claw marks and they are undeniable. Is it possible it was not a hawk? Maybe. Maybe it was another big bird. But my neighbor is not lying about this and his dog got those scars from somewhere.
Perhaps non-scientist observers equate hawks to include all raptors. Small dogs might be on Harpy Eagles’ menus, if available.
So, a female Harpy is capable of carrying off prey weighing up to 15 pounds. Pretty awesome, but it can’t happen in NA, as this species does not occur here.
Me too, Denise!
Small pets should just be kept inside if you have concerns.
Some friends of mine watched a hawk fly off with their dog knowing that 1) They couldn’t do anything about it and 2) they would never see their little ball of fluff again! Did I mention the dog was screaming the entire time? So I mean it’s possible! But I do know most birds of prey go for chipmunks, squirrels, and mice, because those animals are smallet and easier to fly off with! It is still heartbreaking to see a chipmunk get carried off by a hawk.
It might be heartbreaking to see a chipmunk carried off by a hawk, but that’s what hawks eat. Otherwise they’ll starve to death, and that’s heartbreaking, too. Wild carnivores don’t have a choice – they’re not like humans, who can pick and choose their menus.
Protected birds or not, if I need to face-off with one to save my pey, there’s going to be a dead bird.
I know they may not be able to carry the small dog off, but the damage is done once they attack. I have had 3 would be attacks on my leashed small dog in my backyard since April if this year. The latest was this afternoon and I have tone constantly vigilant. Hawks have found an easy prey and all those that post of stolen or missing small dogs from backyards .. it’s a raptor . These things are so clever and will circle my house at the same time every day that I let my girls out while supervising. Once he talons pierce the small chest wall most pets will not survive
Where do you live? We are in north central Texas and have observed three hawks in our neighborhood every day since summer started. There were two last winter but I think the third is a baby.
We have taken photos of one of the hawks on our fence, and several other’s fences. Yesterday it was just out in the front yard of our neighbors – sitting on a rock – in the afternoon. I do worry about our dog. Not that it would carry it away but that it might try to carry it.
There are a lot fewer squirrels and birds than there were earlier this summer.
I will say if you live in the range of the Golden Eagle then you may want to watch out for your pets. Kind of yourself as well. It may or may not be able to carry off your dog, but it sure can take it down. Not a hawk or owl I know. Just take a look read it and see the pictures and if you are like me you’ll get a new level of respect for this bird.
INTERESTING I have a neighbor whose dog was picked up by a hawk (the dog weighed approx 5lbs). He dropped it as well, but the damage was already done. You’ll also find several videos online that have caught attacks and several first hand stories of people who have experienced the loss of their dogs by hawk attack. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIujU48PKnM
Just because the hawk can’t fly off with it, doesn’t mean our dogs aren’t in danger of an attempted attack. It doesn’t hurt to stay vigilant and protect small dogs.
See second to last paragraph of blog.
As a respondsible pet owner we must watch our small pets. They are prey for all sorts of critters…… and no , we can’t “just shoot them ” as some fool wrote in a reply.
Thank you for this article, as a Master falconer, Wildlife first responder and Bird of Prey rescue group we run into this rubbish all the time. Hawks, Owls, Eagles and Vultures are always blamed for things they simply do not do. Only a 14 lb Golden eagle can swoop down and pin a 6 lb animal then regain flight, if it has a updraft and a long take off runway. Birds of Prey are not the evil predators uneducated people make them out to be. I follow up on 100’s of stories every year and they are all something like this, Well my uncles, wife saw it, or my ex husband’s brother witnessed it. all second hand information that is just bunk.
Actually Susie is 90% inaccurately reporting the hunting abilities of raptors in general. It appears to be written on personal beliefs as opposed to facts. As a falconer in the USA, I have a hawk that can hunt, catch, and kill 50-60 lb game… she weighs 3 lbs. it is how they are built and how they hunt!
Folks here remind me of the pitbull lovers who try to deny the damage that these animals cause, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. A raptor is a very powerful animal which is capable of killing a wide range of prey despite its low weight. I have always been a great admirer of birds in general, including raptors, but spreading lies to instill a false sense of security in the public is morally wrong. Whether a raptor could carry off an animal over a certain weight is really somewhat irrelevant considering that they could still kill or seriously injure such an animal regardless. To sit there and deny that such an attack could occur is an absolute disservice to those with small pets who might otherwise take the situation more seriously and carefully monitor their pet’s activity while outdoors. Lying to the public out of fear that they will somehow take part in the mass slaughter of an already federally protected animal is disgusting. And one more observation: who is more likely to know the hunting abilities of a raptor, one who regularly flies them (as the falconer who commented above), or one who cares for injured ones in their home where they presumably do NO hunting? Being an expert in one area does not make one an expert in ALL others… We have had eye-witnessed bird attacks on small dogs in my own neighborhood in Southern California recently, so I am keeping a watchful eye on my two dogs, and suggest others do the same, despite the claims of “rubbish” above.
First, the posted sign never said they would “carry off” your 12 pound pet. It said “swoop down and grab” which is exactly what hawks do. With the exception of a bald eagle most rarely carry their prey away. A hawk will carry smaller rodents into a tree if possible but most prey is eaten where it is caught.
I’m a falconer and have a little experience with what type of prey a hawk will take.
The writer should do a little research before giving people a false sense of security.
I currently have an eastern red taled hawk. Her weight when I got her was 1558g nearly 4lbs. She has been as heavy as 1650g well over 4lbs. The Golden Eagle can weight in at 14+ lbs and is quite capable of catching and killing a fox.
Most birds of prey are capable of taking prey 2 to 3 times or more their own weight. The power of these birds is their talons, grabbing with a bone crushing 200 PSI. The secret to this is a ratcheting system in their talons/feet. They have the ability to lock their talons in place and relax the muscles in their feet. This allows them to lock on to prey with little effort. The more the prey moves or screams the more they ratchet down.
I have personally seen goshawks which weighs in at about 2.5lbs, take ducks and geese with relative ease. A goose can weigh upwards of 14lbs some as much as 18lbs.
Rabbits or hares which is a hawks typical prey weight upward of 5 lbs and contrary to popular belief have a very dangerous defense system. Claws that are capable of slicing open an animal when attacked.
Hawks and other birds of prey master their hunting skill through experience and will quickly learn that gabbing their prey by the head to the best and safest tactic. So thinking your dog can just bite them as a defense is a mistake.
A falconer buddy of mine was out hunting hares in a field and someone had let their small dog run around unattended and the hawk did in fact grab the dog. Luckily he was able to get to the bird and get the bird to release the dog before too much damage was done. The dog ran off yelping but lived none the less. Maybe a vet bill for puncture wounds.
My advise, if your pet weighs less then 20 lbs, I won’t bet my pet life on the hawk not messing with it. Don’t leave your pet unattended!
That said, it is rare but it does happen. The officials did the right thing. It is not their fault people are stupid and take extreme measures. A hawk will never attack a pet with the owner close by. CLOSE BY, not 20 yards. Hawk have become accustomed to populated areas and people outside of 10-20 yards may not be seen as a threat depending on the area. Obviously if your in a rural area where people a scarce that distance is a lot further. But city parks all bet are off.
More importantly and far more dangerous to hawks are people and people that use mouse and rat poisons. These poisons don’t always kill the rodents quickly and there is a risk of a hawk or other animal eating them before they die. This can kill the hawk.
False information from either side of an issue only makes things worse. Get the facts.
The best rule of thumb is that a hawk can carry half of its own weight from a dead stop. That does not mean that a hawk cannot attack and kill something several times its own weight. In general a Red-tailed Hawk can carry off a squirrel. A big female Red-tail might weigh three pounds. My male RT weighs about 2. Squirrels weigh a pound or two depending on species. In winter a desperate first year hawk might attack a dog or cat, but won’t carry it off if it’s more than a couple of pounds. It’s extremely unlikely but they do “swoop in and grab.” If your cat or dog disappears, the likely culprit is a coyote.
Hold on, here is a golden eagle knocking down a goat and trying to carry it.
There is a video of a hawk on youtube killing a cat. It flew it up against a fence and choked it to death.
No offense but you are just making stuff up as you go. Did you confirm with a wildlife specialist that a hawk can’t carry off a 3 pound pet? I can tell you from experience that’s not true. Hawks can carry more than their own weight and it isn’t aerodynamically or logistically impossible. I’ve seen hawks carry off regular sized cats and there are reports of small dogs being carried off. A big hawk in our neighborhoods ate almost all of the neighborhood cats, so while its not normal hawk behavior, it does happen and pet owners have a right to be armed with the truth.
To Michael Berand. I have seen hawks kill cats with my ow eyes, so I don’t understand why as supposed expert you are discounting these reports. A big hawk can and will in some circumstances kill a pet. No need to lie to protect that animal. They are already federally protected, but per owners should know to take precautions if a big hawk lives in their neighborhood.
Very interesting and informative comments. I have a fenced in yard about 3 years now and when I’m outside my cats like to be out as well. When the weather is warm/hot they love to go out for awhile and even fall asleep in the sun. When I did bring up any concerns about hawks etc most people laugh and say that hawks won’t go after a large cat, only small mammals. So I felt a little more at ease. That is until a neighbor posted on social media with a pic about a Red-tailed hawk with an adult groundhog in its talons on the ground. Now I understand that an adult groundhog is approx 8.5 pounds. I blindly wasn’t thinking that a hawk/owl, if hunting prey that it is unable to carry, will kill it and eat it in place. Do I understand that to be true?
In the last year the rabbit population in my backyard is basically nonexistent. As for squirrels I notice a drastic drop in numbers as well. I had a groundhog nests under my shed and don’t know if they move on or what but have not seen any off them either. I wonder if the hawks are thriving and thus moving on to larger mammals like groundhogs if the smaller mammals are fewer. And yes the smaller birds are still around but even their numbers seem off, and few Robins. We’ll see what Spring and Summer show this year. So much for an eco-system if it wipes everything else out.
A hawk killed and carried off my 8-9 pound cat just the other day. And yesterday the hawk was back and obviously hinting and stalking my other 9 lbs cat. Plus there are plenty of YouTube videos out there that show hawks killing and carrying off cats. So this original article and other comments are completely ignorant. Hawks do hunt and kill cats! And probably the small dogs too That are up to 9 lbs. so again please note that people who do not think it is possible are completely uninformed. They Have not done the research or had personal experiences. It’s obvious who thinks hawks are great and who hates cats. Regardless of your emotions .., please note the truth. Truth is most important above all else.
I had a chihuahua who was about 6 pounds. We had a red-tailed hawk who would circle above sometimes when we were outside acting as though it was trying to attack my dog. Once the hawk swooped at the dog. The dog was smart and if the hawk was out, she would run under us for cover. I don’t know that the hawk absolutely could have taken the dog, but I do know that hawk THOUGHT it could. It seemed almost unafraid of humans also.
You really need to rewrite this article. Try googling videos of hawks killing cats and dogs. Do your research better, or don’t do it at all.
Its not about carrying the pet off. If left unattended hawks can kill a small pet and begin to eat on the ground. Happens all the time with unattended small pets up to 12 lbs depending on the bird of prey.
this article is bullshit i know someones who dog weighed 15 pounds and the hawk DID pick it up and it killed it yes it was to heavy but it did not stop the Hawk from trying so if it could carry a 15 pound dog long enough to kill it then i would say it could easily pick up a 3 [pound dog and kill it come on now
I moved to the country abd fence in my yard for my cats. I was concerned about raptors, but, reading the comments of the cat haters really disgusted me. Like the birds that prey is in their nature, the same for cats.
Last week I was fixing the gate in the small 12×15 ft doggie yard. It has a 4’ fence, and a canopy of honeysuckle over most of it. I was wearing a bright yellow top. I turned around just as some enormous black bird was on the ground and trying to take off, eight feet away from me. It was flapping its wings, desperately trying to get airborne, making noise. The wingspan was easily six feet. It made no noise at all swooping in. It took me a second to assess the situation. My only weapon was a hammer. It finally got over the fence without Bingo, my big, overgrown Yorkie, who weighed 13 lbs at last weigh in. He must have been hiding under a little table. There are no marks on him, so he escaped the talons by about one second when I happened to turn around.
This bird was easily large enough to carry off my dog. I’m thinking eagle. I never saw the top of its head, but there seemed to be white underneath near the end of the tail. The bird was shiny black and huge. Bingo doesn’t seem to be traumatized, but I certainly am. I didn’t hit it with the hammer because I could not see if it had my dog under him as it strained to fly away. But I’m ready for next time. I will do whatever is necessary to protect my dog or defend myself on my own property.
Beware when they circle overhead.
BTW, I never let my dogs out of my sight. Ever.
I’ve researched this on and off for a couple of years and I talked to the animal services in Palo Alto as well as the local vet and a few bird rescues. Very definitely have to worry about this. My 10 lb Maltipoo was outside today and out of nowhere a hawk made a quick pass over the house and by the time it made the second pass , I grabbed the dog and put her in the house. When it came by for the third pass it was below the peak of our house. Our house is a one-story. I’ve been rattled all day making phone calls and found out there’s a bald eagle in Palo Alto and we do have golden eagles and various types of hawks and vultures.
They didn’t say carry off. They said swoop down and grab. They sure can swoop down and grab an animal to large to carry off and kill it. Or am I a knuckle head? I mean I’m cool with being a knuckle head but would I know if I was a knuckle head? And at what level of this knuckle headed fuckery do you put me at? I do say hugh a lot,
You must not be too educated or actually take time to read or watch news stories. Here’s one of a 4-6 pound Chihuahua attacked & taken by a Hawk.
It can’t carry the pet off, but it can leave talon injuries requiring treatment and leaving scars. I also personally know of a 10 lb dog that was killed by a hawk, but not carried away. I regularly see red tailed hawks eating squirrels and other mammals on the ground – and have photos. I love birds, but keep an eye out for my mini schnauzer.