Small Chihuahua Grabbed by Red Tail Hawk in a Central SF Park

I wasn’t there, but a friend told me that about two weeks ago, in one of the small lawn parks in the city of San Francisco, a Red-Tail Hawk swooped down low, grabbed a small chihuahua, and took off with it. The dog was the color and size of a large gopher I was told. The park was full of dogs and people, prime walking time at 8:30 in the morning. The owner screamed in horror, and the rest of the folks looked on in amazement and disbelief. Nothing could be done.

This story is a repeat of one published by Out walking the dog. Her story is excellent, and I have her permission to republish here:

City Hawk Snatches Chihuahua?

Scroll down to see the final image …

Hawk stares at dead rat dinner

Hawk stares at dead rat dinner

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

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, and some pigs are meat

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

Saint John's nest rests on the shoulders of a suffering saint. Photo by rbs, Bloomingdale Village blog

Saint John’s nest rests on the shoulders of a suffering saint. Photo by rbs, Bloomingdale Village blog

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.

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.

Painting by Charlotte Hildebrant

Painting by Charlotte Hildebrant from the book: “Still the Same Hawk, Reflections on Nature and New York”, published by Fordham University Press, 2013

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Charles Wood
    Nov 22, 2013 @ 08:51:38

    My sister, who lives in rural France, was talking to a friend in her yard while a chicken, perhaps slated for that night’s dinner, milled around at their feet. Suddenly a hawk swooped in and flew off with that chicken as the surprised humans watched. My sister couldn’t have imagined that she might have been better served had she thought about guarding ‘her’ chicken. As it turned out the hawk, in a manner of speaking, served itself.

    Over time I’ve tried to adjust my comportment while I take my walks. I’ve learned to try and keep my eyes open for the unexpected even though my walks are largely through parks. I used to pay less attention to my surroundings as I walked. Once, as I was walking while lost in thought, I sensed something unusual about my leashed dog at my side. I turned to look down at him and found he was walking along beside me with a big black snake writhing in his mouth. For me though, my habit of not watching for things is a hard one to break.


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