Backyard Murder Mystery

blood drop on pavement

Neliza DrewApr 5·5 min read (originally published on Medium)

I missed yesterday. I was out hiking. I’ll figure out how to make it up. I have ideas.

For now, let’s talk about the trail of blood I found in the backyard last Wednesday.

“Fake blood” by joshme17 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It was Husband’s birthday and the ducks and cats were all safe so at first I didn’t mention it. It seemed, at first, to just be on the cushion of a wicker sofa by the pond and I didn’t see any other evidence of foul play. No fur. No feathers. No other carcass.

To be honest, that was the weird part. There’s a pack of racoons that occasionally trips the motion camera in the backyard and infrequently one of the cats will catch a rat if we don’t get them in before it gets dark. Getting them in before dark is important so they don’t bother the opossums, get themselves into trouble with the racoons, or catch the birds. The regular birds — starlings, blue jays, mourning doves, pigeons, mockingbirds, and crows — have figured out that if they want to walk around eating the ducks’ uneaten food, they just need to stay near the ducks. The ducks don’t bother them and the cats give the ducks a wide berth.

An aside for anyone who doesn’t know, we have some rescue Muscovy ducks that have a subdivision of coops in the backyard near the Royal palm and loquat trees. The have a small pond to swim around in, the top of an old concrete bird bath to drink from when they’re digging up bugs under the palms, and have no problem wandering down the hall and demanding a dance party in the kitchen if they get bored.

The biggest weighs just under ten pounds, but when he gets mad at the broom, he can generate quite a punch and he bites. (He also likes hugs and hanging out on laps because he’s a colossal weirdo.)

At any rate, the ducks were all safe and the cats were inside, so that answers nothing.

close-up of a duck’s head
Spoiled, weird ducks

Back to the story.

I had a chance later in the day to further investigate and noticed blood on some nearby palm fronds. Now, people tend to associate those only with coconut palms and being way up in the air, but that area is littered with baby Christmas palms so several are only about four feet tall.

Adonidia merrillii (“Christmas Palm” or “mini-royal palm close-up of red seeds with more fronds in the background)
“File:Adonidia-merrilli fruit.jpg” by Peter Needle is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

I followed the blood trail behind the pond, finding it on the white bird of paradise leaves and more palms until it disappeared over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. Yet, no other evidence of a struggle or an animal catching prey.

Evidence suggest a bird was involved since the trail on the leaves was off the ground, but there was still the possibility something had attacked a bird and it had escape and flown away injured. That seemed unlikely, though, give the amount of blood, though. Plus, there were no feathers.

I checked the security camera footage, but whatever had happened hadn’t tripped the motion sensor even though the wicker sofa was in the line of sight of the camera.

Days later, I’d still found no other evidence and had mostly forgotten about the whole thing when I went out and found blood on the cushion again.

This time, there wasn’t as much and there didn’t appear to be a trail of it. Just shy of a dozen drops on the cushion and that was it. Again, there were no other clues.

At least, there weren’t until today.

Now, I knew we had some neighborhood Eastern screech owls. Many nights you can hear their cooing call and a couple months ago there was one hanging out in our dead coconut palm before the squirrels chased it off. And I’ve seen osprey from time to time on the water nearby, but they eat fish and all ours died early in the pandemic because I added too much water when the city was flushing the lines with extra chlorine. Besides, none of the tiny guppies that had been in the pond could have left that much blood behind. And Eastern screech owls are small. Like, they’re a bit heftier than the starlings, but they’re not big birds.

Today, Husband runs into the kitchen and says, “Did you hear that?”

No. I did not. I was making lunch and the microwave was on and the cats were howling at me and my brain was playing a loop of “Serotonin.” (ADHD is fun. </sarcasm>)

“It sounded like a hawk. In the oak.”

After a little research, he decided it was a red-shouldered hawk he heard and that they’re known for eating small vertebrates among other things.

While we’re outside staring up at the tops of trees to see it’s still up there somewhere, I notice more blood. This time, streaked down the top part of one of those Adonidia palms, one of the larger ones that’s thirty-to-thirty-five feet tall. There’s no trail going up the tree. And the streaks are near the wicker sofa.

In fact, after climbing up on the roof to get a better look, it appears something (rat?) was snatched from where the fronds meet the trunk and carried diagonally across the back part of the yard and beyond.

Which only leaves a few questions:
What was caught?
What did the catching? Was it the hawk?
What made the second crime scene?
Since something seems to be snacking back there, should I move the motion camera?
Where should I mount the Eastern screech owl nesting box I will obviously be building soon?

Anyway, that’s the story so far.