Is it just me or have hawks and owls taken over our town? Birds of prey, also called raptors, seem to be everywhere. I was 40 years old before I saw a bald eagle. Now I see them all the time, sometimes twice in the same day. A hawk circling overhead or resting on the crossbar of a utility pole is no longer an unusual sight.

The profusion of patio birdfeeders may have something to do with these increased sightings. Raptors are well-suited to prey upon feeder birds and other animals that are attracted to the spillage.

Many bird watchers celebrate the return of the predator-prey dynamic to our backyards and gardens, but if you live with a small dog like we do, you’re probably not one of them. I’m always saddened by the explosion of feathers when a hawk snatches a songbird in the middle of a bath. Not since the first time I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” have I been so nervous about our Chihuahua going outdoors. The chances of a raptor hauling away your pet are slim, but you still need to be careful. While it doesn’t happen very often, any small pet could be attacked.      

All raptors are carnivores and predation is a part of their natural behavior. Once their supply of food is gone, they’ll move on. Remember, hawks and owls are federally protected species, just like eagles. Harming one could result in a felony conviction, a hefty fine and even jail time, so don’t do it.

Even though they’re extremely efficient hunters, they can’t lift more than their own weight. The largest hawks and owls weigh no more than three or four pounds, so most pets aren’t at risk. However, a hungry raptor could still injure your pet, inflicting serious puncture wounds from their razor sharp claws and curved beaks.

I’ve been swooped upon by an angry owl for no apparent reason. Maybe it was nesting nearby, who knows? The four-foot wingspan was unexpected and frightening, like some prehistoric flying dinosaur. Five-pound Rosa wouldn’t have stood a chance.             

Be aware of the birds in your area. Raptors can be dangerous if they feel their chicks are threatened. If a hawk or owl nests near your garden, keep your pets indoors until the eggs have hatched and the chicks have left the nest. Never leave your small pets unsupervised, even if your yard is fenced in. Birds of prey are keen observers and can become familiar with your pets’ habits, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. If hawks are feeding on birds at your feeders, you’ll need to get rid of the feeders. You don’t want to attract predators. 

It’s important to respect all wildlife. Raptors play an important role in keeping the population of rodents in check. The safety of our pets requires our constant vigilance, especially when they’re outdoors. 

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at rnlyes@hotmail.com