Pigeon-scaring hawk snacks on chihuahua

The trained hawks who have been patrolling one of Manhattan's favourite midtown parks all summer in an effort to keep the pigeons at bay are in the doghouse after one of the birds mistook a chihuahua for a rat and tried to have it for lunch.

Park officials have suspended the hawk programme, which began this spring in Bryant Park, near Times Square, amid great ballyhoo. Until this week's unfortunate pooch incident, it was widely seen as a great success. The numbers of pigeons, and the amount of excrement, have been halved.

The disgraced hawk, called Galan, apparently spotted the small dog nosing around some bushes and decided it looked like food. The 45cm-long predator dive-bombed the unsuspecting pet and dug its talons into the dog's side. Galan's falconer, Thomas Cullen, protests it was an "honest mistake".

No real harm was done, at least. Park attendants waved down a cab; dog and owner quickly made it to a vet where love and care was administered to the shaken but not unduly injured pet. But in the meantime debate rages over whether the hawks should be grounded.

"I believe the bird mistook it for a rodent and pounced on it," a chagrined Mr Cullen said at a press conference, carrying another of his hawks, Starbuck, on his left hand. He is proposing resuming the pigeon programme but Galan would be not be deployed again. And to lower the risk of future collateral damage to pets, he is promising to glue small beads on to his birds' talons to blunt their points.

Indeed, the hawk experiment has been a hit with most visitors to Bryant Park, which lies just behind the city's landmark Public Library. Supporters say that using the birds to scare away the pigeons is far better than resorting to poison.

But New York's Parks Department has had enough. If removing the hawks means the return of pigeons, then so be it. "We place the safety of park users, including their pets, over any minor inconvenience that may be caused by pigeons," said a spokeswoman.