Would a great horned owl kill a pug?
January 18, 2007 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Would a great horned owl kill a pug?

My husband has spotted (what he thinks is) a great horned owl on his walks with our pug dog. On two separate occasions, the owl swooped down toward him and the dog, and came within about 15 feet of them both times.

We live in a wooded area, so there's plenty of other prey around for the owl to eat (moles, rats, mice, raccoons, cats). Would the owl take a pug? The pug weighs 20 pounds. Does the answer change if the dog is leashed and attended by a human?
posted by crazycanuck to Pets & Animals (25 answers total)
"The pug weighs 20 pounds. Does the answer change if the dog is leashed and attended by a human?"

That's pretty big prey for even a huge owl. Leashed and with a human your dog has nothing to worry about.
posted by OmieWise at 11:40 AM on January 18, 2007

I've seen GHOs attack full-grown people (admittedly, the owl was captive, being rehabilitated). They're big mean bastards. Not sure whether a wild GHO would try to attack a dog... try contacting The Owl Foundation.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:42 AM on January 18, 2007

A pal had a 15 pound cat eaten by an owl, so it seems possible that one would go for a 20 pound dog
posted by klangklangston at 11:46 AM on January 18, 2007

Pugs are short-haired, right? That kind of owl usually hunts things with longer hair (rabbits, cats, raccoons) which may weigh less but which would have about the same silhouette as a pug.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:48 AM on January 18, 2007

Yes, I wouldn't risk it. Supervise that dog!
posted by agregoli at 11:48 AM on January 18, 2007

Could be a nest. I saw a wildlife documentary the other night where smaller birds (versus a GHO) were chasing off CARIBOU that were too near their nests. And those big tundra cows were running for dear life.
posted by GuyZero at 11:53 AM on January 18, 2007

IANA biologist, but the owl might attack the dog, if it thought it was being threatened. I'd err on the side of caution with this.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 11:58 AM on January 18, 2007

It might not succeed in killing it but it very well may try. I think the pug would be at a serious disadvantage if the owl decided to attack.
posted by Carbolic at 12:10 PM on January 18, 2007

Birds will sometimes mob what they see as predators or competitors in their territory. If the owl is going out of its way to be visible and audible, it is probably territorial harassment. This doesn't often come to blows, the purpose is to make enough of a ruckus that the interloper goes in search of better hunting grounds.

A physical attack on a dog on a short leash and a human nearby seems unlikely to me. But figuring out and respecting the owl's space might be a good idea.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:12 PM on January 18, 2007

Seconding the nesting site idea. Nesting birds can be very territorial - I've been attacked by blackbirds nesting near my house on several occasions. I'm way bigger than a blackbird, but they don't care; they just want me gone.

While it's unlikely that your pug will be attacked while on a leash, you might want to change your route for a while. A few years ago, a Harris's hawk being used for pigeon control in Bryant Park (NYC) tried to carry off a Chihuahua. The dog was fine (minor injuries). The hawk program was called off.
posted by rtha at 12:23 PM on January 18, 2007

It definitely could be defending a nest. I've had starlings (which you can hold in your hand) buzz my head when I walked past their nest.
posted by PenDevil at 12:34 PM on January 18, 2007

Great-horned Owls will absolutely go for small dogs.

Owls and Dog Safety

An owl would be much less likely to attack a dog on a leash. GHOs are pretty bold, but I wouldn't sweat it if your dog is on leash and attended.
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:39 PM on January 18, 2007

Doing a bit of further reading, January and February are nesting season, according to this site. During this time, Great Horned Owls are known to be especially aggressive and violent. I found a few links that claimed Great Horned Owl feeding attacks on pets under 10 pounds, so your pug is probably safe from becoming a meal, but Horned Owls have been claimed to attack humans and large dogs during nesting season.

I'm going to revise my opinion and say that avoiding the nesting area, would be a good idea for the next month or so. The overall chances of being injured are probably low, but it's an avoidable risk.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:40 PM on January 18, 2007

Heh, I'll also point out that Owls are excellent stealth hunters, so if you see or hear an owl attack coming, they probably are not looking for a meal.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:43 PM on January 18, 2007

Owl = sharp taloned flying object

Pug = bug-eyed four legged friend.

Even if the owl didn't kill the pug, there could be significant damage to one or both eyes. Stay away from the area.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:19 PM on January 18, 2007

Owls are nocturnal hunters (like coyote, another pet predator). Assuming that the encounters took place during the daytime, I'd agree that they were territorial defense.
posted by goetter at 1:19 PM on January 18, 2007

A couple years ago I lived in an apartment in a well forrested area. One day I heard about 20 crows making a fuss, and noticed a huge bird fly away from them, which they followed and continued harrasing. So I got curious and walked over to see what the deal was. The bird was an owl, and the crows were really giving it a hard time. So I went back inside and did some research and found out this:

Owls like to kill crows while they are sleeping. Why? Because one specific part of the crow's brain tastes very good. Forget the rest of the brain, forget the meat, forget everything else. The owls are so well off that they are killing crows and eating a bit of their brain as if it is caviar, and can live off it as long as they please to. Anyway, the crow's friends wake up to find their buddy dead, and read the owl the riot act, which is what I had seen.

Lessons learned: 1) Owls in areas with a lot of crows could care less about me; 2) Owls own the sky. They aren't to be screwed with or trusted, ever, no matter what; 3) Forget rule #1 and see rule #2.
posted by jwells at 1:51 PM on January 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

jwells, that is the most disgusting, disturbing thing I have ever heard... and darn it, I like owls!

I certainly wouldn't risk it. As a dachshund-mama, I'd have her on leash if there was no other available place to walk her, and I wouldn't ever leave her alone near large predatory birds. It's just too easy to attack from above, and my dog's eyesight is terrible as it is.

Also, pugs aren't exceptionally agile, in my experience, so they'd be at a disadvantage vs. Mr. or Ms. Owl in any event. Please don't risk leaving yours unsupervised! There's always a first and I'd hate to see it be your pup.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:43 PM on January 18, 2007

In the face of better, more researched and nuanced answers, I withdraw my crude attempt at talking about something I apparently don't know shit about. Sorry, I try not to do that. May your doggie be always safe.
posted by OmieWise at 2:44 PM on January 18, 2007

Also, just wanted to post to this owl post over in the blue (self-link). Not an answer, but of course related.
posted by OmieWise at 2:46 PM on January 18, 2007

Source for the owls feasting on crow brain bits?
posted by Good Brain at 3:59 PM on January 18, 2007

The attacks occurred at night (6 pm, it was dark). One time, the owl swooped down from a light standard in a large parking lot. The other time, it was on a dark cycle path. The parking lot and the cycle path are about 1/4 mile apart, so that's a rather large territory to avoid. The cycle path is adjacent to a creek and a small protected wetland area, which would provide a good place to nest. There's also 100' tall conifers in the area.

The parking lot is about 1/4 mile from our house, and the route is the best place to walk the dog due to good lighting and limited traffic. Dang.

Do you really think the owl would go for the eyes? I would have thought he would be picked up by the scruff of the neck and killed that way. Pugs have a lot of fur by the scruff, so maybe he could be dropped with some surface wounds?

Also I am wondering if the owl thought he was a raccoon from up high, then upon closer inspection realized that it was a dog.
posted by crazycanuck at 4:38 PM on January 18, 2007

I can't say that the owl would go for the eyes, but they have some seriously long, nasty talons (used to have a nice close-up photo, can't find it at the moment). I doubt the owl would get close enough for contact -- unless there is a nest right there and it's in danger, why would he/she risk injury taking on a dog? -- but I wouldn't chance it.
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:55 PM on January 18, 2007

Good Brain: I spent some time trying to recreate my search and can't turn up the same info again. The jist of it was owls (nocturnal) would hunt crows (diurnal) while they slept, decapitate them and eat some specific part of the brain that tasted good but (I think) also had some essential fatty acid or oil in it, and ignore the rest of the body. And then the other crows would wake up to discover this, either in the act or not, and begin chasing the owl.

Part of the problem is the names for these things. A group of crows is called a 'murder' and when they gang up on something, such as the owl, it is called 'mobbing', so the searches I've been doing are like "murder of crows mobbing an owl". I must have done some variation of that and perhaps with a specific owl name and turned up the info. I just can't figure out what that combination was. It was a few years ago though so I guess the site could be gone too.
posted by jwells at 7:49 AM on January 19, 2007

If the pug is on the loose the owl will very likely try an attack.
posted by leavens at 6:22 AM on February 14, 2007

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