The claim: Hawks are out in force; pets 12 pounds and under are in ‘real danger’
A viral Facebook post claims that park rangers and veterinarian offices have warned owners of small pets of trouble in the air.
“Park rangers and vet offices are putting out warnings. This year the hawks seem out in force,” reads a now deleted post by the page Mentone News & Information. “The pets that are in real danger are ones who are 12 pounds and under. These are the pets that hawks can swoop down and grab.”
The top of the image reads, “HAWK WARNING” in large red bold letters and the page captioned the image, “Keep a(n) eye on your small pet’s!”
Upon being contacted by USA TODAY, Mentone News & Information deleted the warning and said that a source should have been included in the post.
However, the same post has already been reshared by Facebook pages Jamie’s Animal Rescue on March 16 and Hardin County Humane Society in a March 14 post with over 12,000 shares.
“This is no joke! Predator birds such as Hawks and owls are in full force right now. Most of their ‘diet’ did not survive the freeze , so they are out hunting more than usual and desperate for food,” Jamie’s Animal Rescue wrote. “They don’t care if it’s domesticated or wild. It all tastes the same to them”
The posts do not specify a location or veterinarian office that sent out the alleged warning. Hardin County Humane Society said they had no comment. USA TODAY reached out to Jamie’s Animal Rescue for comment.
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No evidence of warning
It is unclear where the post originated, however, the earliest version of the post dates back to the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley in November 2015.
The image was shared to Animals Matter’s Hamlethub, and the warning reads that hawks are out in force “off the east coast,” which has been colored out in the social media versions of the post.
When the warning first went viral in 2016, CBS Philadelphia reported that KYW Newsradio checked with different park rangers, vet offices, animal control departments, and Pennsylvania and New Jersey divisions of fish and wildlife. None was aware of any sort of hawk warning.
Later in 2018, the image went viral on social media once again, when Christine Newman, operations officer for the Toms River Office of Emergency Management, shared it on social media after her 7-pound dog had a close encounter with two hawks circling overhead, according to Philly Voice.
Newman’s post got shares from users in Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, Arizona and other states. It sparked a debate online on whether a hawk would be able to carry a small dog.
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How much weight can a hawk carry?
It is false to claim that a hawk can carry away a 12-pound dog; experts say a hawk cannot carry more than its own weight.
Dr. Jason Weckstein, associate curator of ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, told CBS Philadelphia: “If you have chickens you may be worried a little bit” but “you don’t have to be worried about dogs and cats.”
Hawks Aloft writes on its frequently asked questions page that “there are many urban myths about hawks or owls attacking and carrying off cats and dogs. Neither hawks OR owls can carry off more than their own weight.”
However, it is still recommended that animals less than 15 pounds be supervised at all times when outdoors because of other predators including owls, coyotes and hawks.
Val Cunningham, a volunteer with the St. Paul Audubon Society, debunked the claim that hawks can fly with a dog and noted that the situation depends on the weight of the dog and the hawk.
“Hawks appear large, but under all those feathers there’s a very lightweight bird with air-filled bones,” he wrote for the Star Tribune in February 2020. He added that the most common backyard raptors are red-tailed hawks and Cooper’s hawks and usual prey for them consists of small animals such as mice, voles and squirrels.
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Our rating: False
An image claiming that park rangers and vet offices released warnings about hawks being out in force and keeping pets indoors is FALSE, based on our research. The image first appeared years ago and there have been no identified park rangers or vet offices issuing such warning. Further, experts say that hawks are not able to carry more than their own weight.
Our fact-check sources:
- Animals Matter’s Hamlethub, Nov. 5, 2015, “Hawk Alert: Keep Your Pets Safe”
- CBS Philadelphia, March 9, “Experts: Recent Posts Warning of Hawk Attacks On Pets Exaggerated”
- Philly Voice, April 17, 2018, “She warned of hawks attacking pets in her New Jersey town—and sparked a viral debate”
- Hawks Aloft, accessed March 19, “Frequently Asked Questions”
- Star Tribune, Feb. 11, 2020, “Fact check: Could a hawk actually fly away with your tiny dog?”
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