I was out birding today, when I was guided by some unseen force to a grizzly scene. The place was perfect for a crime, well hidden and well off the beaten path.
Everyone knows you can’t have a murder without a body, and no body was present, but the murderer did not get away clean. Examining the crime scene, there murder took place underneath an evergreen tree, about 20 yards into the woods. The crime took place very close to the trunk and examining all flight patterns, it would be nearly impossible for the culprit to have come from the nearby field.
The crime must have happened recently, the feathers were still very much in a tight circle. Death was quick. Looking closer at the feathers, they were all the same. The killer was wise and didn’t leave any evidence behind. I searched the soft earth nearby for tracks and found none leading to the site or away, no feathers were found anywhere near the site.
Judging by the feather pattern, our victim was a Ruffed Grouse. I started to make a list of possible suspects. I quickly ruled out something on four legs as their was no evidence to support it. I’ve seen Coyotes, Foxes, Mink and Bobcat kills before and they are not this neat. This attack was swift, from above and the killer carried its victim away. American Kestrel and Merlin were quickly ruled out because of size and Peregrine Falcon was ruled out because of the location, while Peregrines are amazing hunters, it would be amazing if one could have spotted this Grouse well hidden in the woods. Nay, our killer stalked its prey. Sharp-Shinned Hawk? Again too small. Cooper’s Hawk? While one could certainly take a Grouse, it seems to me unlikely, with so many other choices available. Remember our scene is remote and very little bird life is ever found in this part of the woods, I typically don’t even go near there, except for today.
We know our killer had to be big. Red-Shouldered Hawk? Not their style. Broad-winged Hawk? They have an alibi, as they haven’t returned from the tropics yet. Red-tailed Hawk? Maybe, but they like small rodents best and there are lots of them available. Northern Goshawk? Hmmmmm… We now have out first real suspect. Grouse are a favorite food of Goshawks, but there appeared to be no struggle. Goshawks hunt by action, usually a Grouse flushes and the Goshawks pursues, but again no signs of struggle. A clean, stealthy kill is not their typical method of operation.
As I thought about this further, it was clear our victim never knew what hit it. Grouse are not known to be the brightest of birds, but they are good at not being seen and avoiding trouble, especially in the day time. But as I thought more about this crime, what if it occurred at night?
Eastern Screech and Northern Saw-Whet Owls are too small, Long-Eared doesn’t live near by. Barred Owl? Maybe, but like Red-tailed Hawks they much prefer the smaller rodents to chasing big birds. Which left me one last suspect. Great-Horned Owl. It all made sense now. A Great Horned Owlwaited patiently in the evergreen tree’s, for our victim to walk on through, it being dusk or dawn the Grouse couldn’t see well and likely walked right under the killer. Silently and without warning, the Owl quickly dropped down, killing the Grouse quickly with its powerful talons, which meant no struggle other than the initial impact. The Owl then flew off and devoured the victim.
But without a body, we can’t have a crime. I need more proof that a Great Horned Owl was responsible. I searched and searched, but couldn’t find the killer or any more evidence of the victim. Then I noticed that this part of the woods were silent. No birds were calling, two Black-capped Chickadee’sflitted by calling softly to one another nervously, my attempts to pish went strangely unnoticed. No chipmunks, no Squirrels, nothing. The woods were silent. All I needed was some sort of a witness that could tie the suspect to the area of the crime. Then I remembered that Coreyand I had heared a pair of Great-Horned Owls hooting from this location, one March evening while looking for American Woodcocks. I now had all the evidence I needed.
FOR THE MURDER AND CONSUMPTION OF A
SUSPECT IS CONSIDERED ARMED AND DANGEROUS AND LIKELY TO STRIKE AGAIN
Approximately 2 feet tall, gray/brown feathers, two large distinctive “horns”, yellow eyes, often is heard saying before attacking “Who’s Awake? Me too!”
If spotted, keep your distance and enjoy its majesty.