DANBURY -- Hey... How about some Mexican food for lunch?
That's the thought that may have crossed a red-tailed hawk's mind Sunday when it swooped down into the yard of Tony and Janette Buonaiuto and tried to take their 3.5 pound chihuahua, Kokonutz, out for a meal -- literally.
It's unclear what most chihuahuas -- accustomed to laps and rides in ladies' pocketbooks -- might do when faced with talon and beak coming out of nowhere, hellbent for a nosh. But Kokonutz -- and Janette -- fought back.
The hawk grabbed little Kokonutz on the neck, but between the barking dog and the shouting human, the big bird took off, empty-stomached.
"I scared it, the dog was yelping, and it didn't get a good grip,'' said Janette said of the hawk. "But it was huge.''
Kokonutz has the talon marks on his neck to prove it.
The Buonaiutos live on the far southern end of Candlewood Lake and are used to seeing red-tailed hawks and bald eagles in the trees that border the water. For that reason, Janette said, she always warns her family to be on the lookout when they take Kokonutz -- who is a little over 2 years old -- outside.
"It's always in the back of our minds,'' she said.
But Sunday was cold. Rather than take Kokonutz out for a stroll, Janette said she simply let her pet out the back door to do its doggy duty.
A bit later she looked out the window, saw the hawk swoop in, and ran out to help.
Luckily, hawk gone, Kokonutz seems not to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder -- no trembling, no anxious looks skyward, no aversion to PBS nature documentaries.
"She's fine,'' Janette said.
Ordinarily, even big red-tailed hawks -- which at about 3 pounds, weigh a little less than the average chihuahua -- do not try to take domestic pets. They aim for smaller game.
But Laura Simon, field director of urban wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States, said Connecticut has been cold and has had a lot of snow cover on the ground. A red-tails' usual fare -- squirrels, chipmunks, mice -- might hunker down on such days.
"It's fairly unusual,'' Simon said of the dog-hawk confrontation. "But hawks and owls are extra hungry right now. This might have been a very hungry bird.''
"It could have been a young bird,'' she said. "Hawks don't usually try to take things that big.''
But Simon said people have to realize there's wildlife in the suburbs that really is wild. The same people who love seeing chickadees and finches flock to their bird feeders are appalled when a sharp-shinned hawk makes a raid, trying to snatch one of those songbirds.
"But for a hawk, that's a bird buffet,'' she said.
The same holds for owners of small pets in winter, when game gets scarce for raptors.
"People think dogs are off limits to hawks, but squirrels are OK,'' she said. "A hawk doesn't know the difference. This time of year, when you let your animals outside, supervise them.''