• Range Writing

Hawk-watching Canines

Years ago, I watched a golden eagle that stayed near the leading edge of our sheep flock as it moved, taking advantage of the jackrabbits and rodents that flushed in front of the flock as it grazed.

I was initially alarmed about a golden eagle hanging out near the sheep, since eagles are known to kill lambs, and was amazed that our livestock guardian dogs allowed the eagle to land near the sheep. But that eagle never made a move toward the sheep, and the dogs had somehow determined that particular eagle wasn’t a threat to the sheep, although they calmly watched the bird of prey when it was nearby. This went on for several days, until the eagle moved on to hunt elsewhere. The dogs that were watching over the flock at that time didn’t have a truce with any other eagles, and wouldn’t let other eagles land near the flock.

Today I watched a similar event, but this time it involved a red-tailed hawk, and a different set of livestock guardian dogs. When I was doing morning rounds, I passed through the flock several times, noting the hawk sitting atop some sagebrush close to the leading edge of the sheep. The first few times I went past, the hawk didn’t flush, but the third time, it moved from one side of the flock to the other, but landed close to the flock's outside edge.

Of course, both the sheep and the dogs had noticed the hawk, but it mostly just sat atop some sagebrush and watched. The sheep pondered it for a while before returning to grazing. Nothing the hawk did was alarming, even when it swooped around in front of the flock as it tried (and failed) to capture a rodent.

The dogs had adopted a non-aggressive wait-and-watch strategy. They stayed nearby, generally keeping their bodies between the hawk and the sheep, and shifting locations as the grazing flock and its attendant hawk moved about. The hawk-watching dogs were Boone, a male dog in his three-year-old prime, and Charlie, a not-yet-yearling female. {They are in the left side of the image below, between the hawk and the grazing sheep.}

It was entertaining to watch the dogs as they assessed the hawk and apparently judged it to be non-threatening, but worth keeping an eye on. Their interaction took place during an extensive period lasting more than three hours – before the sheep, bellies full from grazing, bedded down, losing the interest of the hawk.

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