Hawksteria or claws for concern? Park cops alert small-dog owners

BY COLIN MIXSON | Hawksteria is swooping down on the Village.

Village residents owning diminutive, toy pups are keeping one eye pointed skyward around Washington Square Park for fear of the red-tailed hawks that prowl the skies there in search of scrumptious, four-legged meals.

The fresh rash of paranoia follows a recent red-tailed hawk attack upon a hapless Chihuahua on the Upper West Side earlier this month, and even Park Enforcement Patrol, or PEP, officers are raising a red-tailed alarm that locals should keep small dogs heeled, citing unreported attacks on small dogs in the area, according to one resident.

“I saw park police and I decided to ask if I should be worried,” said Siobhan Ogilvie, a Village resident and Yorkie owner. “I pointedly asked, ‘Have there been instances in the park this year where the hawks have gone after little dogs,’ and she said, ‘Yes, absolutely.’ I kept very alert and my dog on a tight leash just in case, but I am worried that others won’t.”

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A red-tailed hawk gorged on a pigeon on Washington Square North in 2007. The hawks can live for more than 20 years and produce one to three young, called eyasses, each year. Photo by Brian Dube

But that account is far from official, and Sergeant Rivera, who supervises the park police in Washington Square Park, refuted the anonymous officer’s claims, saying that while hawk sightings are common, attacks on pets are not.

“Yes, there has been a spotting of a hawk, but there have not been any incidents,” said Rivera.

In fact, attacks by red-tailed hawks on small dogs are, despite this month’s Uptown incident, exceedingly rare, according to experts at New York City Audubon.

“There actually are dozens of red-tailed hawks living in New York City. They’ve become a fairly common bird over the past 20 years and the reports of attacks on pets are very few,” said Todd Winston, a communications manager and research assistant with N.Y.C. Audubon and a “lifelong birder.”

“I think a red-tailed hawk attack is very unlikely and not something people need to worry about,” he said.

The first red-tailed hawk known to nest in New York City in the contemporary era was Pale Male, who has been roosting near Central Park since the 1990s. He and his mate, Lola, are the prime suspects responsible for spawning the dozens of such birds of prey that now call the five boroughs home.

And in all that time, there have been three incidents of hawk attacks reported in the media, including the latest assault upon the Upper West Side pooch.

Before that, a red-tailed hawk was suspected in the failed attack upon another four-legged Upper West Sider in 2011 — this time a cat named Eddie, who, according to a New York Daily News report, was saved by his own impressive girth, which, at 15 pounds, proved too much for the carnivorous creature to hoist.

That article also made brief mention of a previous hawk attack on a Chihuahua in Bryant Park in 2003.

The reason for the relative dearth of attacks upon pets is the fact that there is no shortage of small, furry critters to prey upon in New York City that are both smaller than even tiny dogs and cats, and which aren’t attached via leash to large bipedal mammals, according to Winston.

“Most dogs like a Chihuahua are going to be on a leash anyway, and they’re going to be near a person,” Winston said. “Hawks have more to fear from people than people do from them.”

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Small dogs like this might be prey for Washington Square’s red-tailed hawks were there not so many rats and pigeons around, according to New York City Audubon. Photo by Tequila Minsky

The Parks Department does not have a formal program that alerts small-dog owners about hawks. But Urban Park Rangers and PEP officers, when aware of hawks nesting in specific parks, do alert dog owners as they can, according to a Parks spokesperson.

Apparently, some small dog owners have been on alert for much longer. Ogilvie noted that she has a friend who lives on MacDougal Alley who has two 4-pound Havanese dogs that he used to let run off leash in the alley. But because of the warnings, she said, he stopped doing that eight years ago.

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Although this image, above, portrays small-dog owners’ — and small dogs’ — worst nightmare, it’s unlikely the hawks will attack the dogs with so many rats scurrying around, plus with dog walkers near their pets, according to an Audubon official. Villager photo illustration by Bill Egbert

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