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Protecting your pets from birds of prey

Many birds of prey regularly hunt natural prey as large as large rabbits.  Especially if you have small pets that you allow to spend time outside, it's important to be aware of the potential dangers that predatory birds can present.

Many birds of prey regularly hunt natural prey as large as large rabbits. Especially if you have small pets that you allow to spend time outside, it's important to be aware of the potential dangers that predatory birds can present.

From the majestic bald eagle to the owls that haunt the nights, there are around 65 species of birds of prey that live in or have been documented to visit North America. Seeing these birds in their native habitats can be a very exciting and unique experience. But one thing that has concerned pet owners over the years, is whether or not birds of prey present a danger to their pets, and if so what can be done to help protect them.

Over the years, stories of birds of prey attacking or attempting to attack pets have sprung up from different locations all over North America. There are mixed opinions on whether or not these stories are to be believed or not. Some websites, for example, claim that many reported bird attacks on pets are nothing more than stories or exaggerations, especially when the pets in question are animals like dogs and cats. Birds of prey, after all, have a limit on how much weight they can carry, and even a small adult cat would probably be too heavy for most bird species to carry away. Another thing to consider is that domestic pets are not a natural part of a bird of preys diet, so many people feel that it would be unlikely, especially when more natural prey items are abundant, for a bird to go after a pet.

However, there have been documented cases where birds of prey have attacked and in some cases flown off with pets. Experts argue that while most birds of prey may not be able to lift pets that are over a couple of pounds for long distances, it's not unheard of for birds to attack animals that are larger than they can carry and than consume them on the spot. Even if a bird of prey was incapable of carrying a pet over long distances, that doesn't mean that it couldn't inflict serious injuries or even kill an animal that is too big for it to than carry away. From a birds eye view, a pet rabbit in the yard, or even a small cat or dog, may look very similar to a birds natural prey source. Especially if, for some reason, there is a lack of the birds natural food source. To a very hungry owl, hawk, or eagle, an unprotected small pet in your yard may seem like a good opportunity for a meal.

Even if a bird of prey is not able to get airborne with your pet, that doesn't mean it can't inflict serious injuries. It's important that, if you live in an area where any types of birds of prey are around, that you remain aware of the danger and take some very simple steps to help protect your pet. These tips are especially important if you have small pets, 20 pounds and under, such as toy breed dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, etc, that are allowed to spend time outside in areas that are known to be frequented by birds of prey.

  • Supervise your pets: Simple and common sense, don't allow your pets to spend time outside unsupervised. It only takes a few seconds for a circling bird of prey to drop down on an unsuspecting pet and either carry them off, or inflict some nasty injuries. When your pets are outside, stay outside with them. Your presence will discourage not only birds of prey from attacking your pets, but can also protect your pet from other dangers such as being attacked by other potentially dangerous animals, or people with ill intentions.
  • Keep pets leashed: If you have a large yard where it's possible for your pets to get a good distance away from you, and there is a bird of prey in the area, keep your pet on a leash. This should keep your pet from straying too far away from you where they will be more prone to attacks.
  • Keep pets contained: If for some reason your pet(s) must be left outside without constant supervision, the method you choose to contain them can help to protect them from bird attacks. Runs and outdoor enclosures should have sturdy roofs to prevent attacks from above. It's also important to provide your pet with some kind of cover, such as a dog house, so that your pet(s) have a spot where they can go to conceal themselves if they feel threatened or nervous. If at all possible, let your pets live indoors. If you must keep pets like rabbits, chickens, etc outdoors, than make sure you always provide them with proper, safe, housing.
  • Use the buddy system: If you have multiple pets, put them outside together. Statistically birds of prey are less likely to bother animals in groups than single animals.
  • Don't encourage birds to stay: Feed your pets inside, and keep bird feeders etc away from areas where you allow your pets to play outside. Food left outside often attracts smaller animals such as small birds, mice, and squirrels. These small animals in turn may attract birds of prey to your yard, and increase the chances that a large bird may go after one of your pets.
  • Train your pets: Especially important with dogs, train your pets not to harass birds and other wildlife. If your pet bothers the wrong type of bird, a bird of prey rather than the normal song birds, than most likely a predatory bird is going to do all it can to protect itself or it's offspring.
  • If necessary, call your local wildlife office: If you have ongoing problems with a predatory bird in your neighborhood, call your local wildlife department to see what they advise. Sometimes, if the situation calls for it, they will be willing to trap and release problematic predatory birds. They may also have more tips for you about how to keep your pets safe.

Don't wait until it's too late. If you know you have birds of prey in your area, these simple preventative measures can help to ensure your pets safety. With some planning and vigilance on your part, your yard can become a place where humans, pets, and wildlife can all peacefully exist.


JimmyIIX on October 10, 2013:

Not as rare as you like to claim vdragonsblood. The person right below you and myself have both witnessed it happen. A bird of prey snatched up my neighbors dog while we were right there, and off it went. Although I agree with your protection plight you shouldn't be on here saying that it's so rare when it in fact occurs all the time.

Dragonrain (author) on December 06, 2012:

Thank you for your comment. That's very unfortunate about people illegally shooting birds of prey! I have a deep respect for all animals including birds of prey, and it saddens me that people would kill them.

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I have personally experienced 2 instances of birds of prey going after pets - 1 instance was when my brothers pet duck was killed by a hawk quite a few years ago (this was a witnessed event).

While I believe that attacks on cats and dogs are probably very rare, there are many other types of animals that people keep as pets who would probably be at an increased risk - pet rabbits, for example. The advice I posted here was not just meant for dog/cat owners, and I believe is good advice for any pet owner, even those who may not have to worry about birds of prey.

Tina Elliott from Saint Cloud, MN on November 16, 2012:

I have been a licensed state and federal MN wildlife rehaber for 12+ years and such things are usually mistaken identity. Especially with young fledged birds of prey. If such cases truly have occurred, but very unlikely, it's extremely rare. It's always good to look after your pets no matter what, especially in certain areas were cougar, coyote and wolf are present, but in such instances these kinds of warnings about birds of prey taking off with your beloved small pet dog can be unwarrented and cause much panic with people who do not understand the truth. It also give birds of pray an unearned bad name, and can lead to people illegally shooting and sometimes killing them sadly.

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