A few months ago I wrote a warning article on my Make Time For Happy blog, a fun blog inspired by my little pup, about the dangers of letting your dogs outside without keeping a close watch after a hawk or an owl came within feet of my back door. If it had happened when we first moved in 14 years ago, I could have understood. As very few of the lots in our neighborhood had been built and it felt like we were in the middle of the country. But now ever lot has been built on, and areas that were once nothing but trees have been cleared and transformed into neighborhoods and more and more it feels like we have been swallowed up by the city. So you would think that it would be safe to open the door and let our little dog spend some time roam his fenced in backyard.
For the first few years we had Happy, we often did that. But every once and a while we would notice the shadow of a hawk passing over heard and heard the birds madly screaming as the mocking bird or black birds gave vigorous chase. Oddly, as the houses sprang up around us, we were surprised one day to look out our window and see a hawk sitting on our fence. For a few days after we decided that it was better to be safe than sorry, and accompany Happy as he ran and played. When, after a few days, there was no sign of the hawk, we figured all was safe and we let Happy out as normal.
On and off for a few years, there would be a pattern of the occasional visit by the hawk for a few days each year, and then an all clear for the rest of the year. At first it seemed like there was nothing to worry about as the hawk would only relax on our fence for a few minutes here and there for a few days, and take off at the slightest peep. For those few minutes we were able to enjoy the priviliage of beholding this breathtaking predator from our family room window.
Then one year, there was a somewhat worrisome change, yet it took time for us to recognize how unnerving it was. After years of making the occasional visit and taking off, we noticed that instead of taking off the moment that we opened the sliding glass door, it would linger and let us admire it from the safety of the porch. Our hearts thrilled with amazement as we stood on the porch and enjoyed this rare view. As soon as I had the chance I got out my camera and snapped a couple of pictures, thinking how lucky I was to be granted this rare priviliage.
Then one day I tried opening my porch door and take a few steps outside so I could get a better picture. And to my surprise, the hawk stayed and let me take a few picture.
And after a couple of days take a few steps in its direction and take an even better picture.
It would seem that alarm bells should be going off at this point that this wild bird felt comfortable enough to let us open the screen door and get within 50 feet of it and then calmly turn its head and let us take its picture. Overcome with the excitement at being so close, it never occurred to us that this wild bird was slowly losing its fear of us, and that this could put our dog in danger.
That was until one day, I was standing outside watching Happy, when suddenly I was started to see the hawk sitting on the fence about 20 to 30 feet away. Before I could recover from my amazement at the hawk having landed so close to me, it took off. Only instead of flying away from me and Happy, it took off towards us. Fear instantly gripped my heart and thank the Lord I somehow managed to scream loud enough to startle it. From this point on, whenever the hawk came for its yearly visits to our fence, we spent the next few days close by our dog.
But then, about two years ago, as my father’s health declined, and unbeknownst to us Happy was developing full blown diabetes, the hawk started coming for daily visit. For nearly a month, every afternoon we would look out the window and see the hawk sitting on our fence multiple times a day. Then after a month, of near daily visits stopped, and we barely saw anything of the hawk until the beginning of this year.
By this time diabetes had robbed Happy of most of his sight, so we would stand in the yard or sit on the porch keeping watch to make sure that we could rescue Happy if he tired out, got scared, or lost track of where he was. One morning we went to take Happy outside, but he refused to move away from the door unless we were standing close by his side. It was as if he sensed some unseen danger. It was not long before the hawk returned to its favorite perch on the fence putting an end to sitting on the porch while Happy was outside.
At first the visits did not raise our alarm, until we started noticing that now there were times when we took Happy out that the hawk remained at its post quietly watching us. Not only was it remaining outside while we stood near the porch with Happy, but it was starting to come closer to our house.
After a few weeks it was so comfortable that one time my sister and I were siting on chairs in the middle of the backyard and my mother was coming and going from the house and it landed on the fence and spent five or six minutes relaxing. It even let my sister go inside and get my camera and I was able to take this picture of the hawk looking back at us.
At this point we stared becoming a little uneasy. It was starting to become clear that the hawk was loosing its fear of us. And to make matters worse, at night there was a mysterious bird sitting in the hawks favorite spot almost every time we took Happy outside.
At this point we were starting to get worried about the safety of Happy so we built a makeshift fence of pavers and spare wood to make sure that Happy could not wander far from the back door whenever he went outside, especially for the 5 or 6 night trips he was making. Night after night I would stand outside keeping watch on Happy and occasionally looking in he direction of the shadowy figure on the fence.
Finally, after weeks of barely sleeping to stand watch, and no sign of movement in the hawks direction, and my tired body demanding rest, I figured it would be safe for me to sit on the chair that was only a foot or two inside of the porch. I turned my back to the hawk and took the 5 or six steps into the porch, and just as my aching body prepared to sit down, I looked back in the direction of the shadowy figure. To my horror, the shadow was no longer on the fence, but was now in flight, and in those few seconds had traveled halfway across the yard.
How the Lord gave me strength to step outside and lift my arm up towards that mighty bird at the exact moment it hovered over Happy I do not know. All I know is that I was so tired that everything seemed to move in slow motion, and it was only by his grace that I was able to scream out, No you won’t! before it turned and barely missed hitting our family room window because it had come so close to our house.
After that, the hawk disappeared, and it seemed like all was clear. But a couple of days ago, a new visitor came to our yard and claimed a different corner of our fence and hung around for 5 or ten minutes posing for pictures. The other day it decided to hop down into our yard and stood near the movable enclosure we had made for Happy and stared into our window. Then, two or three days ago, while I sat on the porch trying to get some much needed and my sister walked Happy on the leash (a habit we got into after the first hawk or possibly an owl went after Happy), a hawk flew down the middle of our yard and grabbed something off the ground before taking off.
That is why I am taking the time to write these words of warning. Just because you live on the edge of the city with a small fenced in back yard, do not think that it is safe to let your beloved four footed members of your family outside without supervision especially if your four pawed family members are small, sick, or blind.
Our lot is one of the bigger lots at 1/3 of an acre. In our neighborhood alone there must be at least 100 homes. Our lot backs up into a row of duplexes that are lucky to be 30 feet from our back fence. Yet now, as the city is spring up around us and it would seem that we should have little worry about except the occasional wandering snake, our yard is being visited more and more by increasingly bold and fearless hawks. Fortunately most of the time they have been content to sit on the fence and blink their eyes at us, but as I know from bitter experience, all they needs is a few seconds of being off guard, and before you realize it they can be halfway to your back door and on top of your defenseless little dog.
So please take a warning from our unexpected city visitors and keep your eyes open. Because even though you live in a secured back yard on the edge of the city,you never know when your yard will be visited by an unexpected visitor.