Marshalltown, Iowa, U.S.A. - One Marshalltown veterinarian has a word of warning this spring for the owners of puppies, kittens and even small breeds of dogs: Great Horned Owls do sometimes fly off with pets that weigh five pounds or under.
Dr. Dennis Drager said that a large owl absconding with a domestic pet is rather
unusual, however. He's only treated several dogs and cats for talon wounds over
two decades of veterinary medicine practice, he noted.
The animals that veterinarians at Drager's Animal Clinic have treated are the
larger ones who managed to fight the owls off, of course. No one seems to have
any idea about how many small pets have been carried off and simply considered
Jim Clark of Marshalltown knows all too well what Drager is talking about. Clark
found his 12-year-old poodle-mix named Queenie lying in blood on the front porch
one night, badly battered. He had no idea at the time what had attacked her, but
he rushed the dog to the Animal Clinic.
Veterinarians there determined from the talon wounds that the 10-pound poodle
had been torn up by Great Horned Owls.
"The little dog had some pretty deep talon tears," Drager recalled. "To save
her, we had to drain the infection out, so we had to insert draining tubes in
Queenie survived the harrowing incident, but shortly after that Clark decided to
turn the porch light on and follow her outside during her final front yard jaunt
before bedtime. And as the little white poodle was crouched on the edge of
Clark's lawn on Knollwood Drive, two Great Horned Owls silently swooped down
"I was out there in a second," Clark said, "and when I ran into the yard the
owls flew off. But it was clear that they wanted to go after the same little dog
Marshall County Conservation Board Director Mike Stegmann said that the
ferocious birds are called "the tigers of the night" and noted that they did
most of their hunting during the early evening and early morning hours.
"They catch most of their prey at dusk or right before sunrise," Stegmann
explained. "But they mostly feed on rodents. If they have enough squirrels and
rabbits and other smaller wild animals, they usually won't be tempted to go
after a domesticated pet."
But it does happen occasionally, Stegmann stated, especially in wooded areas
like Clark's Knollwood Drive, which winds between Elmwood Country Club and Camp
Juliette, a Girl Scout camping area with acres of deep woods.
"The Camp Juliette area could easily support a family of Great Horned Owls,"
conservation board naturalist Diane Pixler affirmed, "but probably not two
pairs. Two owls usually need over one square mile of forested land to
themselves, and they always stake out their nesting territory over the winter."
Residents of southwest Marshalltown have heard the Great Horned Owls hooting in
the woods of Camp Juliette, and they've also heard another pair answering them
from the Linn Creek valley across West Olive Street, where there is also a large
stand of timber.
Clark said that he even knows where the Great Horned Owls in Camp Juliette are
nesting. He walked into the woods behind his house one day and finally found
their nest, high in an old tree, by first noticing dozens of small bones on the
ground below it.
Drager said the owl attacks that have come to his attention have usually come in
the spring or early summer. Naturalist Pixler noted that this was the time of
the year when the Great Horned Owls need the most food.
"Their young are usually hatched in March," she said, "so in the late spring and
early summer the owls have more mouths to feed. The young owls are usually out
of the nest by the middle of the summer, and by the next winter they're out
scouting for their own territory."
The bottom line, Drager said, is that owners of very small pets need to be
especially vigilant during the months of May and June, when the young owls are
"You really do need to keep your eye on smaller pets when you let them outside
during the evening or early morning hours," the veteran veterinarian stated.
"Especially," he added, "if you live in or around a heavily wooded area."
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On 2007-07-05, Dena from IL wrote: "Do be careful with puppies/small dogs..make sure they are leshed when outside. I was just warned recently about Owls being known to swoop down and take pets."
On 2008-12-09, Janet Schaefer wrote: "Very helpful. We see a pair of owls when we walk our 12# dog at about 5:30PM. We were concerned about her safety when alone outside the house.
from Oak Hills, CA wrote: "Our miniature pinscher was attacked by a GHO in 12-07. He fought for his life for four days in the hospital, then passed away. The infection and drainage tubes explained in the story are exactly what we went through. He also suffered crushed shoulder blades. We continue to educate our family on great horned owls. We look, listen, and leash our dogs at night now.
from Fancy Farm wrote: "I had taken my chiluahua out before bedtime (9:00pm) when I turned my back for a minute and an owl had swooped down and grabbed her. Luckily, the owl let go of her. She has a wound on her side, leg, and ears. She is really shaken up. I was so suprised that it happened that quick and I thank God that we still have her. Everyone needs to be aware that this can happen."
from Georgia wrote: "We live in the city, but have a wooded area around our home. I have 2 very small dogs, 7 & 8 pounds poodles. It's early June 09, on evenings and early mornings when we take our dogs out there is a GHO watching & screeching. It flys very close to a low branch watching our dogs, just waiting for the chance to attack. There have been two GHO together on same branch watching. They do not seem afraid of us at all! It's so scary that we will not let the dogs get more than 4ft from us. We are sure they would attack if we let the dogs go to far away, which is hard for our dogs to do their business! Everyone needs to aware of these big birds!"
from EAST TEXAS wrote: "I am open for comments on this one. In a matter of two weeks, we have lost a kitten, two ducks, two chickens and a 20lb goose. The owl was not able to take off with the goose. The damage done to the goose was horrible. He was ripped up. I was not able to save him. I've never heard of an owl being so aggressive. We see him every evening on our property. I do not know what kind of owl he is. Has anyone ever heard of this?"
On 2009-09-18, Barbara Brown from Apple Valley, Ca wrote: "I have lost three pomeranians in eight days to an owl. My first dog (10 lbs) disappeared in the evening and I didn't know what had happened to her. The next morning my second dog (5 lbs) about 6:10 am was gone within 10 min of being put outside. I was then informed by a neighbor they had seen an owl the night before my first one went missing on their fence post. I was assured by Animal Control and the vet an owl would not bother my 15 lb dog. He was killed within 5 min. The owl tried to take him but couldn't but the talons killed him. So please be careful of your small pet between dusk to dawn."
On 2009-10-01, Valerie Heekin from Santa Clarita, California wrote: "We thought our 7 pound mixed Pomeranian dog was safe to play in our fenced yard during daytime hours, but the other day during broad daylight we saw an owl just sitting and starring at us. It took nearly 10 minutes to scare it off. We seen plenty of owls at night but never during the day which means I will have to escort my little dog outside even during her outdoor playtime."
On 2009-11-17, greg from Casper, Wyoming wrote: "well we deliver the news paper in early am. Though we kee p our chiuaua on lesh we have had owl swoop within a foot of our dog and within 4 feet of ourselves! We no longer take our dog on route or out at dust or dawn!"
On 2009-12-16, Linda Brenner from Tennessee wrote: "I have 2 minature poodles that romp freely around the yard. We have 50 wooded acres and I just recently saw a large owl watching them. I went online to see if owls would attack small dogs --obviously there is a real danger. I am angry that we no longer can take long walks in the woods."
On 2010-04-04, Dave from North Florida wrote: "My mothers poor poodle just suffered a 2 hour ordeal of dying from the talons of a Great horned owl. The attack happened at dusk. Really sad. Must have been the unusually cold winter we had because we've always known the owls to be on the property (woods)along with Red Hawks, but never had a problem before. He was a good dog. "
On 2010-05-12, Dyan from Yountville CA wrote: "On 2010-05-04 my daughter was walking our chinese crested dog on a leash at 9:30 PM and a GHO flew down from an oak tree right past her head and tried to take our dog! She was able to think quickly enough to dive in before the owl and scoop our dog away from it, thank goodness. The owl flew right back up into the tree it came out of. My dog weighs 8 pounds."
On 2010-06-04, Chris Sorenson from Minneapolis, MN wrote: "My 7 pound Pomeranian is undergoing surgery right now for an owl attack that happened at 1 AM on 31 May 2010. I don't know what kind of owl it was, it was dark in a heavily wooded area, I had a flashlight but it was over in two seconds. The owl pounced and then flew away immediately as my Pom let out a sharp howl and of course I was yelling too. My Pom is going to be okay, but those talon wounds are INCREDIBLY NASTY! "
from Caledonia, Michigan wrote: "at around 3:00pm (MIDDLE OF THE DAY!!) today my dog Zorro (15 lb Chihuahua/terrier mix) and I pulled in the driveway of our house. I let zorro out like normal and I stepped out of my SUV and turned to grab a couple things out of my vehicle. Zorro was about 6 feet away from me, right by the back of the SUV. As I started to shut the door and head inside I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. As I turned to look, an owl swooped down towards Zorro and at the last second decided against trying to grab my dog. He probably second guessed it because I had just turned and started to walk towards Zorro. The owl perched in a tree right by the driveway and sat there watching closely while I carried my dog inside. I came back out and sprayed it with a hose to make it leave. So upsetting to know I can't even let my dog outside without a leash anymore. CLOSE CALL... just wanted to let everyone know for a future warning it can happen anywhere at anytime."
from Columbia, Missouri wrote: "It was 6pm I take my dog for a 2 mile walk as I am walking I get this spooky feeling I look up and there is a huge great horn owl 3 feet above looking at my 19lb boston terrier. I got really spooked the owl didnt attack my dog but wanted to take a close look at my dog to see if he can grab him. I guess this owl realized that my dog was to big being 19lbs and flew off. But I really got spooked. Tonight I walked my dog at a 11 P.M. then heard a Owl make an angry hoot, then the tree started to shake! I heard loud noises, got freaked and took my boston terrier home. "
On 2010-10-01, Michelle Quigley from Dorchester, MA wrote: "On an overnight to Plymouth, MA, I took my miniature poodle out behind the motel at dusk and suddenly saw the talons of a GHO ready to strike in front of my face. If my dog hadn't been on the leash, she would have been gone. The owl hovered for a second, then flew off into the woods. Quite a scary experience. A little while before, I had walked her back there not on leash. "
from Richmond BC (Burkeville) wrote: "I am an 10# poodle living near to the Vancouver airport, last night my owner spotted an owl swoop down to take a look at me, he yelled and it flew away, it was about midnight I was out for my escorted but not on a leash front yard expulsion ritual. After this incident I will have to have my leash when out side."
from Eagle River, WI wrote: "I know it can be frustrating to have a small pet attacked by an owl, but consider the fact that these are wild animals doing what wild animals do.
There is no reason to be "upset" you can't go for walks when the land belongs to the creatures around you as much as yourself.
If you don't like the possibility of an owl attacking your dog, move to the city where your unleashed dog will meet an equally cruel fate under and automobile's tires."
On 2011-03-08, Mike from Holliston, MA wrote: "Bill,
Sounds like some wild animal tore your heart out one night on a walk. I agree that we should be aware of our surounding and the threats that are around us and prepare according. But we are all human beings and we all have feelings, to discount the fact that someone might have a feeling of loss over a pets is rediculous.
On 2011-04-21, Beth from Murrieta California wrote: "We have an owl in our neighborhood that chases us at night. It screeches really loud and then takes off from the roof tops and swoops down and tries to attack us. It is very agressive!"
On 2011-04-30, Debbie from Pinehurst, NC wrote: "I love feeding the birds on my deck. For the last 2 months there have been almost no birds at my feeders. First my neighbor put up a hawk calling device to scare away woodpeckers from his cedar siding. After we convinced him to take it down I thought the birds would return. No such luck. Tonight I went outside to see what few birds I had left were screaming their heads off about and there on a low branch was a young Great Horned Owl! I had heard them calling a few nights before just before dawn but never really thought about it. I have a 12 pound Norfolk terrier who my husband lets out on the deck alone at night. NOT ANYMORE! What a shame, no more birds and now I worry about my dog! We have a wooded area behind our house, the rest is golf course. There is a whip-or-will every night that we love to listen to, I pray the Owls won't take him! I love birds, I just wish there weren't owls around here."
On 2011-05-02, Rosemary from South Florida wrote: "There's a big Owl in my neighborhood for over a week now. I live in a townhouse and the patio faces a lake. He's been killing the ducks one by one (ripping heads out). Now he's been prying on my 10 lb cat who stays in our screened patio. I had to lock my 2 cats inside my house now because yesterday, the owl was sitting on my garbage call all morning apparently waiting for my kitty cat to come out to the patio. Eventhough is screened I'm afraid the owl may rip the screen out. I live in the city and this is very scary! He's not afraid of humans at all and he sits and watches closely daytime and nightime! All the neighbors are very concerned. We don't know who to contact so they can relocate the owl. ANy suggestions?"
On 2011-05-20, LAW from Texas wrote: "An owl tried to get one of my two pound puppies tonight. I was aware the owl was in the area because I see it each morning and evening. I was surprised by how bold it was with me only five feet from the puppies. Please be aware that it doesn't matter how close you keep them-once the owl is used to your presence, they'll make a move. "
from NC wrote: "I am trying to get photos of what actual wounds look like from a Talon attack. My dog was attacked and I would like to know if it was a Owl that attacked her. Thanks so much. Pls email me photos if you took any.
On 2011-09-13, Jodi from Walled Lake Michigan wrote: "Yesterday in the middle of the afternoon, I watched as a huge great horned owl swooped down in my yard and flew off with a squirrel! I had never seen one around here before and now im really worried!! We have a 12lb. chi pin that is part of our family. She loves running around in our huge fenced in back yard and now I dont want her too!! :/"
On 2011-10-05, Monica from Bellingham, Washington wrote: "I just took my 9 pound Shi-Tzu/Poodle mix for a walk. Just barely dark outside, but enough to need a flashlight. There was an owl that swooped down twice and got very close to my dog. I didn't know Owls were that aggressive. This is the first time I have seen it here in Sudden Valley on my street. Be careful with your small pets. The owl is obviously not afraid of humans.
On 2011-12-13, Deb from Santa Fe, NM wrote: "Our 10 pound Jack Russell was attacked three nights ago. Talon wounds on her sides and bite marks onher shoulders. She is a tough little dog and I think the juniper and my husband rushing out the door saved her. She has some staples on her side and is on antibiotics, but she is an emotional wreck...kinda like foiling an alien abduction. My questions is: is there a way to repel GHOs from one's property? Ultrasonic devices?"
from Azle,Texas wrote: "I lost my 6 month old chihuahua to an owl about two weeks ago. The owl swooped down and grabbed her and flew away before I had time to even realize what had actually happened. Sadly this own is protected so I have no recourse and now fear fro the safety of her sister every night. This is not the first time it has happened to one of my dogs. I also lost another chihuahua a year ago in the month of December as well. She was taken right out of my yard at night. This owl is a menace to my small neighborhood but nothing can or will be done. It it so frightening to be a pet owner and have to pray every time you allow your dog out. I now leash my one remaining chihuahua and still fear the owl will get her even if she is leashed. This owl has haunted my area for years and sadly we as pet owners just have to pray it is not our dogs that is its next meal every night. "
On 2012-01-11, Kathleen from Snowflake, AZ wrote: "I have lived in a rural juniper wooded area for 36 years. We have lost many cats to GHO over the years. At the same time, I do appreciate the magesty and grace of these amazing birds. A few years ago, a GHO attempted to take off with my large drake during the night. Apparently it could not lift him (about 10-11 pounds), but he was torn up terribly and dead when I found him in the morning. I was not positive what had killed him. The next evening just before dusk, I saw the GHO sitting in a tree next to the duck pen, staring as if to say "Where is my drake?". I scooped up my 11 pound yorkie-poo, put her in the house, grabbed my camera, and got some amazing photos. I shooed the owl off several times, as I herded my remainning ducks into their house, which I boarded with plywood for the night. After that I covered an area of their pen and herded them into that each night. I've seen the GHO since then and have taken more beautiful photographs. My yorkie-poo and miniature poodle (10 pounds) have a fenced and covered yard outside their doggie door. I let them run on my 1 1/3 acre fenced area only when I am out with them in daylight. But after reading this today, I am afraid even for that."
On 2012-02-07, Nancy from Longwood, FL wrote: "We had put our 14 lb Jack Russell out to go to the bathroom about 5:30 a.m. last Friday and a GHO swooped down and attacked him. Evidently he was too heavy because he dropped him about 30 feet away. He survived the attack but his injuries required us to put him down. I never dreamed this could happen and needless to say are heart broken."
from Hattiesburg Mississippi wrote: "March 2012 I had seen owls this past winter but never thought anything about it. This past week I have been hearing 2 and assume they have a nest with babies then tonight a large owl came from one tree to a large pine above me and my 22lb Shi-Tzu at our driveway. Scared I told my husband to come out then he found this page on the dangers of Owls. Thanks to all for sharing!"
On 2012-03-21, Marc from Fort Valley, GA wrote: "In the early hours of the morning on March 20, 2012 I have to believe that a GHO attacked our 10 pound Yorkie with fatal consequences. We live in a well-maintained Pecan orchard and I must say that the evidence of the attack leads to a GHO. I've been familiar with these birds for a long time but, never aware of the danger they may pose. Our hearts are broken over our loss of a wonderful pet that we've had for 13 years yet, I have to respect these birds for what they are here for. I'm only writing about our experience to advise caution to any small pet owners, to make the steps to prevent similar circumstances. Please take the time to learn how these birds operate! It just may save your pet and prevent you from going through a similar, heart-breaking experience. "
On 2012-03-22, Cindy wrote: "I'm very sorry for all your losses. Please learn for these horrible incidents. I have always know that owls, osprey, eagles, hawks (for airborne creatures), as well as fischer's (land)and other creatures are dangerous to my small pugs, esp. puppies. I have never, ever let my dogs out alone. Even on a leash dogs, cats, ducks, etc. have been taken. Small dogs really don't need that much exercise and it's just not worth the risk to me to let them out alone. I have 5 pugs and I walk each and every one of them to protect them. Please teach others about the risks with leaving small dogs off leash (or even on leash) or even in fenced areas alone. Sm. dogs are just unable to protect themselves (and some larger dogs as well). I hate to think of anyone else going through this heart breaking experience."
On 2012-05-02, Dala Carver from Elgin Oregon wrote: "I live in a small town close to the river and grain growers. We have alot of GHO and they have been killing doves, also alot of ferril cats are gone. My sisters JRT was attacked and killed. We have viewed 10 to 15 at night just 2 blocks away. "
On 2012-06-24, Mandy wrote: "It's important to supervise your small dog when you're outside! I'm continually shocked by how many irresponsible pet owners leave their little furballs outside by themselves. "
On 2012-10-26, nini from lancaster, calif wrote: "recently an owl tried to get my cat and she got away and this evening right as the sun went down an owl, I'm assuming the same one, swooped down a few times to grab my toy poodle. the third try my dog had ran fast towards me and this owl had no fear coming within a foot of me to try and grab my dog. I lunged toward it flinging my hands and he flew in front to the lamp post and stared at my house for a minute or two before flying off. I'm assuming he must be real hungry to do that in my face."
from chillicothe, illinois wrote: "My chihuahua has disappeared from my front porch step within one minute time, which was how long it took from his bark till the time we opened the front door. no dog was found! couldnt of been a person that quick. no one was out, it was four days ago. im thinking it may have been an owl after reading these comments."
On 2013-06-25, Henry from San Diego Ca wrote: "Last night I heard my dog crying and screaming in my back yard. But the time I ran out which was seconds she was gone. I could hear my lil one yelping in the distance and then it was silent. She's a small chihuahua about 5lbs. We have 3 chihuahuas and they were barking like crazy. So whatever took her had to be very aggressive and wasn't scared of the dogs. Pretty sure it was an owl we hearing them screeching all the time, but not a sound last night. Unbelievable"
from Coweta OK wrote: "My little 8 Lb dog went missing @ dusk yesterday. I heard an Owl later...pretty sure he got her. She was with 3 other dogs."
On 2013-07-03, Henry from San Diego wrote: "Just posted my dog getting taken last week. That was Monday. This Monday went to seaworld with our grandson, we thought our sons would be he to let the dogs in. In this rare occasion everyone had plans. When we realized the dogs were outside we rushed home to let them in. Too late our second dogs was no where to be found and the third dog boo boo has a serious wound in her ear. Once these owl realize the have easy prey in a confined area they keep coming back. We hear it every night even saw it. Lightning does strike more than once. I had never heard of anything like this now it's happened to us twice in a week"
On 2013-08-22, Shawn Lewis wrote: "I was living on an isolated farm in Southern Indiana. The wooded pasture which ran alongside the 1/4 mile driveway had an owl's nest, with huge piles of bones scattered on the ground. One morning, just before sunrise, I was driving my Toyota corolla down the driveway. A huge bird came swooping towards me from the end of the driveway. It's wingspan was much wider than the width of the car. When it got closer, I could see two little tufts of feather on top of it's head, so I guess it was a GHO. It's talons were coming directly :-) my head. At the very last minute, about 2 feet before impact, it swerved away."
from Chatsworth, CA wrote: "Two years ago, when I was walking my dogs a cat followed us home...he was a black and white tuxedo with personality plus. He chose us for his future home and for two years, he made friends with all the neighborhood cats. On the morning of August 23rd,2013, around 5:30am, he went outside and never returned. I didn't hear any noise but three days before, there was an owl on my roof staring at the trees in my yard since there are so many birds and squirrels here. I had no idea, that bird was after my cat...the only explanation for his disappearance. I was making coffee and checking email when I noticed he hadn't come back in for breakfast like he always had for the entire time he lived here. Poof, he was gone and my yard is completely enclosed; if it were a coyote, my dogs would have been going nuts chasing it, so the only explanation is the GHO got him...two other cats have been missing in my area since August, also.
On 2013-10-05, Lisag from Va wrote: "After reading these, I am convinced it was a GHO that killed my chi tonight, we are shocked and heartbroken. We got home later than normal tonight to find him dead with wounds to his side. We have never had a problem leaving him and his Shiz tsu brother outside on leads. I feel like I'm in a nightmare! I don't know what I am going to tell my kids in the morn. My Shiz tsu is fine and unharmed. I am so sick and shaken over this! I wish I had know. :("
from Chatsworth, CA wrote: "On August 21, 2013, I heard birds in my trees chattering very loudly and raising their pitch. When I went outside, I saw a hugh Great Horned Owl on my staring at the tree where the birds were hollering, but I guess it was staring at my Tuxedo cat who always planted himself just feet from the tree where he watched the birds eating seed I put out everyday. Two days later, my cat went outside at 5:30 am and never, ever returned. The only explanation has to be the owl came back and took him because Mr. Tuxedo wandered everywhere, was a street cat before he followed me home two years prior. Owls are in my neighborhood often and Mr. Tuxedo has never been bothered by them. After he disappeared, I immediately called my vet and went online and found out that skunks are a favorite prey for GHOs and the owl on my roof was probably waiting for him to be alone since his markings were close to a skunk. I read that GHOs have poor eyesight. I'm still in shock that he disappeared and never returned."