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Bunny Murder Mystery

WARNING: Some people may find a photo in here gross…especially if you are of the Disapproving Rabbits persuasion.

I know this may shock some of you, but it’s December and we got SNOW in Minnesota! In the Twin Cities we got roughly 12″ from Winter Storm Caesar. Much to the chagrin of the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel has started naming winter storms. On the one hand that seems silly, but on the other, in this day and age of social media and climate change bring about more extreme weather and storm systems, it makes sense.  We can’t call every snow storm Snomaggeddon or SnOMG.

But we got our first real snow of the season in the form of 12″ and not the expect 4 ” – 6″ that usually is our first dusting. It was beautiful snow if you didn’t have anywhere to be and was warm enough that a walk through the neighborhood yield gorgeous views like at Lakewood Cemetery yesterday. Not much in the way of bird action, but I imagine birds had staked out feeders and thick bushes to wait out the storm.

As I was walking home, a lump on the unshoveled but well trampled sidewalk caught my attention. At a distance I wondered if someone had lost a scarf or as is becoming all too common in my neighborhood, a wayward hair weave.

Closer inspection revealed it to be the remains of an eastern cottontail rabbit. A few nudges with my boot showed the carcass to be fresh and malleable, not stiff and several hours old. Hm.  I, of course, had to study the surrounding tracks.  I noticed right away boot prints and crow tracks and was wondering if someone’s dog got the bunny and the crows came in for the ample food source (we’re withing five miles of a large crow roost). But I couldn’t find dog paw prints with the bunny prints.

Then I found what I was looking for, rabbit tracks with wing prints. What struck my attention was how the wing prints seemed short next to the rabbit tracks and that the rabbit tracks didn’t stop.  I would expect that a red-tailed hawk would be the raptor going after a rabbit in my neighborhood (we have a few urban residents). And when red-tails nail a rabbit, the bunny track usually stops.

These tracks went all over from the sidewalk to the yard, you could even see where the rabbit tried to turn around.  Based on the short width of the wings and the tracks, I wondered if what killed the rabbit was a Cooper’s hawk?  That’s a very common hawk in our neighborhood too and yes they are large and can go for rabbits, they do not have feet suited for dispatching a bunny quickly.  They have skinny toes meant for crushing songbirds and pigeons, not the big beefy toes of a red-tail. That rabbit wouldn’t have gone gently into that goodnight.

The corner where I found the bunny carcass and evidence is well traveled and close to a coffee shop.  I suspect once the Cooper’s got the rabbit, it couldn’t eat that much as there would be people walking by, flushing it.  The several crow prints makes me wonder if they got more of the bunny than the hawk.

Survival continues even in the most urban of neighborhoods.

5 comments to Bunny Murder Mystery

  • Oh, jeepers. While sad (on the 1 hand, well 2 hands since bunny died AND hawk didn’t get fed), I’m inordinately interested in your detective work. SUPER super cool. Many times I’ve been looking at books on animal tracks, staring-while-drooling at SO many AMAZING traces left in snow. I’ve never seen that sort of hawk wing impression (as far as I know, but I’m NOT skilled in this), so I LOVE this. Thanks!!

    You have a point re: naming storms. Easier to chat about. Yet, of course, I will always honor NOAA’s lack of participation. Those folks are amazing. I worked with a data manager in the NPS years ago, and when I learned he’d worked for NOAA, which deals with CONSTANT, HUGE data streams 24/7, I thought, “Yeah, I think he’ll do alright.” =)

    You’ve inspired me to bust out the animal-detective-skillz books. Great work! OOH, and there is snow predicted (yes, in California and not in Tahoe) for Wednesday & Thursday, so maybe I can head out for a few a.m. tromps of investigative merriment.

  • Thanks!

    Say, have you seen Bird Track and Sign? It’s one of my favorites for bird detective work. Here’s an Amazon Link:

    http://www.amazon.com/Bird-Tracks-Sign-American-Species/dp/0811726967

    Thanks for reading!

  • Denise

    Beautiful snowfall yesterday! Was glad to get the heck out of MN and back to my boring and brown IL.

  • Jason Kessler

    Brilliant deduction, Mr. Holmes. Thanks for the yarn.

  • Darlene

    Theres a female Cooper’s hawk where I live that goes after very large prey, including large gulls, crows, and even coots. She goes after rabbits, but rarely. People don’t believe me when I say Cooper’s hawks go after rabbits, but I’ve seen her do all these things. I haven’t seen her go after full grown ducks, not even small ones. I’ve noticed she doesn’t like to get into more than 3 inches of water, so they can easily get away. She does attack ducklings, though.