Death from Above

2020 March 15

We got some significant snowfall at the end of February, but March 1, 2020 turned out to be pretty nice so I went out snowshoeing. Just behind the house, I found a spot where there had been a lot of frantic activity by small animals in the fresh snow.

None of the tracks were very big, so it looked like a small predator like a weasel was going after some rodents like voles or red squirrels. Checking more closely, I found some bloody fragments, strongly suggesting that it had gotten one.


Well, it looked like somebody had gotten a good meal, anyway. There was a set of slightly-bigger-than-the-rest tracks leading away from the site of the carnage, that were consistent with the kind of tracks that a weasel would make.

I followed those tracks for a short distance, but they abruptly . . . terminated:


See the wingmarks in the snow? Whatever bird that was, it had a wingspan of over two feet. I suspect an owl, most likely one of the great-horned owls that we occasionally hear hooting in the woods in the winter. In fact, it might very well have been one of the owls being watched by the Jutila Center Nestcam, just on the other side of Portage Lake and almost exactly a mile away as the owl flies. Wikipedia gives the airspeed of a great horned owl as 40 miles/hr, so we are well within the cruising range of the nestbox owls.

Normally, I expect a weasel would be difficult prey for an owl, they are fast and alert and turn white in the winter so that they would be difficult to see in the snow. But I think this one probably had its erstwhile victim in its mouth, and may not have been paying very close attention to its environment. Meanwhile, the owl had probably been drawn in by the ruckus the weasel had just kicked up, and glided in on its silent wings to snatch up a two-for-one special.

Death can strike at any time, without warning.

3 Responses
  1. March 16, 2020

    Great detective work! I love that picture and the death from above you discovered.

  2. Richard permalink
    March 16, 2020

    That is likely! For some reason this makes me kinda sad. But at least the owl got a meal. It’s a hard world.

  3. March 26, 2020

    Whoa, detecting wingprints in the snow – that’s fantastic!

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