Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Murder Mystery


Dave and I hadn't been on our hike five minutes before we came upon a murder scene. We're figuring the victim was a raven. We've got lots of ravens on this mountain and not a lot else, especially a lot else with real long black tail feathers. The carnage was spread over a good twenty feet. Basically all the soft outer portions of the raven were strewn from hell to breakfast, and nothing else was left. A lot of the smaller feathers were white, but that doesn't rule out a raven, I think. Just because a dude is done up splendid in a shiny black suit doesn't mean we know the color of his underwear.

We didn't know what would take down a raven. Ravens are formidable. If we ever let our cat Tater out and she met a raven, that raven would relieve her of both her curiosity and her eyesight in two pokes. Ravens are handsome and large, with massive beaks I would describe as both aristocratic and indigestible. But the beak was nowhere to be found.

When one watches enough TV, one assumes these puzzles are solvable. But we're more fans than students of nature. I do know a whole lot of individuals who could bring a vast store of knowledge and lore to the problem. Which, I figure, is just about as good as having the knowledge and lore myself. But Dave and I on our own aren't that good at sleuthing.

For instance, it was Dave's contention that nothing would take down a raven, because of its aforementioned formidability and all, and so what must have happened was the raven got hit by a semi on the nearby highway and kept flying through the woods before it noticed it was damaged, and then, like Wile E. Coyote going off a cliff and pedaling across the air and finally making the mistake of looking down, it dropped dead onto our trail. Whereupon some opportunistic varmint hoovered it up.

Of course, I find that ridiculous. Clearly this was a terrorist raven who suffered a premature detonation. All the signs indicated it.

We could ask our friend Ranger Dan, the tracking expert. Ranger Dan is able to infer a shrew's toenail from a single displaced grain of sand. Ranger Dan would have this all figured out, not only the perpetrator and the murder weapon but the motive, the previous three meals of the victim, and his foregone plans for the evening.

I have Facebook friends who could give us input. Real nature nerds. When I reported finding a headless starling on the sidewalk the other day, I got a whole thread of educated guesses as to how a starling would come to be missing his head. And I learned (and subsequently forgot) that one sort of bird predator pulls out the quills and another sort bites them off. I think owls eat the whole thing and urp up whatever they regret later. I believe we ended up with the most plausible scenario being a window-struck starling who later lost her entire head to a crow. Don't mess with the corvids.

Which brings us back to our raven. Someone sure got it. Someone bit the feathers off first. Someone even ate the head, or took it home and stuck it on a pike as a warning to the other ravens. All that was left was the feathers, and the Nevermore.

47 comments:

  1. Oh, dear! I love corvids, and this is quite upsetting! The perpetrator of this atrocity must be found and brought to justice, lest he strike again! I know only one person who may be able to furnish a theory: the Hercule Poirot of Nature, Julie Zickefoose. Zick! What do your little grey cells tell you? Any theories?

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    1. I'm going to get my whole Facebook crew on this one, don't you worry. We'll get to the bottom of this dastardly deed. (I like to use "dastardly" as often as possible.)

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  2. I can't speak as to the fate of the raven. But somewhere there is a bluetit that woke up with a starlings head next to it. An offer he can't refuse, for sure.

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    1. Now I'm wondering if a barnacle is really just a concrete shoe for birdies.

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  3. I suspect you had been preceded on the hiking trail by a Republican exercising his God-given right of open carry with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and the thing went off accidentally as firearms seem prone to do. The raven just happened to be flying within the blast radius when the warhead detonated in mid-air.

    That's the story we should be spreading, anyway. If Fox and Breitbart get wind of your hypothesis of an ISIS raven on his way to suicide-bomb (doubtless) a nest of patriotic American eagles, we'll never hear the end of it.

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    1. Hillary has been strangely silent on the issue. I wonder what she's hiding?

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  4. Colonel Mustard, in the library, with a candlestick!

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  5. Upon strolling in nature's green haven,
    You see carnage, unsettlingly craven.
    Did your brain cells collide?
    Did you think, "corvicide"?
    Or was the victim just a crow or a magpie or sumpthin?

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    1. It is one thing to find just a feather,
      But a whole set! From topside to nether!
      Now a naked bird shivers,
      His suit gone to quivers,
      The victim of wind and bad weather.

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    2. *wild applause from the peanut gallery*

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    3. Fortunately, I always keep mah feathers numbered...for just such an emergency.

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  6. Hi Murr: The black feathers appear to have white shafts leading into white rachis(pl?) up among the vanes. I don't have a raven feather or even a crow feather in my collection to compare, but the photos I turn up on-line (unimpeachable source, right) show black rachis going into at best a gray shaft. I am also struck by how long and pointy the feathers are. My impression of crow and raven flight feathers is that their are more rounded at their tips, only narrowing at the end. I don't know what kinds of birds you get in that area, but my guess would be that these are from a seabird. I think the white feathers support that. Again I have never laid hands on a raven before, but I have handled a few crow skins and they don't have any white feathers unless they are albino or leucistic. Looks to me like a predator, probably a raptor or owl plucked the bird and flew off with the carcass to eat it somewhere else.

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    1. Oh gosh, I guess we must have some sea birds about, although the location is a good thirty miles from the Columbia River and 100 miles from the ocean. I wonder what?

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    2. I see sea gulls here at the parking lots of the stores here in Oregon City. So guess you do not have to be by the sea shore to see seal gulls.

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    3. I meant SEA gulls. Never seen a seal gull.

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    4. One of our neighbors has a roof full of gulls. I don't know what her roof has that the rest of ours don't.

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    5. May have been a sea eagle. they're black and white.

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  7. I was going to say I don't think it's a Raven, but Mr. Mohn beat me to it. And with a whole lot more intelligent stuff added to my one simple statement. So I won't comment after all.

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  8. I'm thinking a raptor got it, but the only knowledge I have about them (if you can call second-hand information knowledge) is that a friend's friend, who works for the power company and was tasked with removing a raptor nest from the lines, found around a dozen cat collars in that particular nest. There. I was finally able to use that bit of depressing information in a comment.

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    1. I probably shouldn't admit it, but I don't find that so depressing. I LOVE cats but feel so strongly that they should stay indoors that I kind of cheer on the coyotes and such. Ever'body got to eat.

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    2. I am of the indoor-only persuasion as well, but I feel for the cats because their owners allowed them to be outside. I feel for the wildlife, too, though. Nature! Sometimes ah hates it.

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    3. I, too, don't find that terribly depressing. As a bird lover, I have found the remnants of many a feral cat (or house cat with too much time on its hands... I mean, paws) in my yard. It seems like poetic justice to me.

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  9. Maybe Julie will weigh in with her usual insight on what it might be.

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  10. Late to the party. Enjoying the gathering and the hosts offering. Rather a lot.
    I would agree probably not a crow. The collective noun for them would fit though (a murder of crows sounds sooooo ominous). Not a wasteful killer though. I don't think there is any nutrient to speak of in the bits discarded.

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    1. Yeah, whoever eats those bits just has to urp them up afterwards.

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  11. The white feathers really make me think not raven or crow (they aren't the same bird)...were they mixed together, or could they have been from two different, um, corpses? And did you look UP? Could there have been an owl's nest above the spot where the feathers were? We had an owl nesting in our smallish patch of woods one year, and there were always feathers and...y'know, stuff...on the ground under the next.

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    1. Hey, now that you mention it, this might be another clue for the clever. Blue sky above. It's in the woods but this patch was a little clearing. No nests above.

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  12. Uhm uhm uhmmity uhm. I haven't read the comments yet because I want to come to this discussion unsullied. Well, I mean not prejudiced. You knew I'd be here as soon as I got the email notification that you've posted, which comes in after everybody and his brother has weighed in. And I know that I'm prolly one of the friends you referred to who would bring a whole satchel of sumthin' to this discussion. The first thing is: it's not a raven. Underwear or no, ravens wear gymrat grey underwear, not white. I think it's what's left of a band-tailed pigeon. The white feathers being undertail coverts. Possibly. I'm frustrated at not seeing any diagnostic square-tipped, banded tail feathers though. Really wish I could see more of the crime scene. So what killed it is the rest of the question. The fact that it's been rained on makes it tough to say, but I'm leaning toward a raptor. Carnivores tend to wrench and chew the feathers as they're plucking the bird, leaving saliva on them, which raptors don't have much of. These are pretty neatly pulled out. BTPI would be a nice bite for a peregrine. Not sure what you've got there as candidates; I figure you've got nesting Cooper's hawks as well as peregrines. Just my two cents. Now to read the comments. I see I have been invoked. And scooped by Mr. Mohn. :) Nice. xo jz

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    1. I will happily give you a major data dump of photos from the site Ms JZ: seems to me the big feathers weren't plucked out, but were sort of sawed off. Sheared. If they were pulled out, would they not be pointy at the ends? Like a pen-quill? But I'm not good at this, and it was weeks ago. We've got Coopies for sure, and maybe peregrines there, and Sharpies and Red-tails. The longest feathers were maybe eight inches. I am saving "gymrat grey underwear" to enjoy later. Also, are you one of the few of us who prefer "grey" to "gray" because it seems grayer?

      OH! Maybe the pen-quills were sharp because people sharpened them! DUH!

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  13. Hurray for Julie...she makes sense and gets my vote.

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    1. Yeah, I vote for her before she even checks in. Just prophylactically.

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  14. Murr! We have seagulls regularly hoovering up the parking lots here in Spokane, and we're a LOT farther from the ocean than you are!

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  15. That mess of feathers looks like Mr Raven had an unfortunate encounter with the tail rotor of a helicopter. Of course if that really happened, the feathers would be spread over a much wider area. Probably he just died of natural causes and got ripped apart by a scavenger. Sad, because I like ravens.

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    1. Me too. Nobody seems to think this is a raven though.

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  16. So I'm reconsidering, and discarding band-tailed pigeon as a possibility. Now I'm all duck. I think it's something like a female goldeneye. There are too many white body feathers, and if you notice the strong curl of them, that's a real duck trademark. That fits with the lanceolate primaries, the very long feather shafts, and the lack of obvious tail feathers (duck tail feathers are very small.) If you've got eagles around, one could have carried it for some distance.

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    1. I want to be all duck too! We have some bald eagles here and there. Not as bald as the victim.

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  17. I understand that Mister's Holmes & Watson are soon to arrive.

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    1. We don't need those amateurs with this crew cracking'.

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  18. Both owls and large hawks will take a raven. I live trapped a raven once when I was an instructor in a Navy survival school. Before the end of the day he would land on my arm to be fed. He crapped in the barracks and started stealing things from lockers and when he settled into the salad bar I knew he would have to go. I let him outside and he hung around for about three days trying to get back into the barracks.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. I've been trying to make friends with a trio of crows in the yard next door, and all I've gotten them to do is fly out of the tree and land on the wires when I come outside and yell HEY WALNUT BOYS!

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    2. They like meat, Murr. My mom used to debone steaks before cooking them. I put the bones out for the crows. They would fly in, take them and fly over to a sheltered spot behind a neighbor's pool and pick the meat off there. The neighbor finally asked me why she had a huge pile of bones in her yard... I didn't actually make friends with the crows from this, but they obviously had a look out as the bones would disappear shortly after they were put out.

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