Death of a Bunny


(This 1234th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on November 16, 2014.)


"Please come out here," my wife called with a tremor in her voice. I headed out into our yard to see what was bothering her.


When I reached her side, she pointed to a corner of our lawn where the head of a rabbit appeared in the grass. The way it was positioned it looked as though its body was buried under it, but Doris tipped it on its side and I could see that the head had no body attached. It had been neatly severed.


But there was nothing else to be seen. No blood, no body parts, no sign of an attack other than this detached head.


Doris was very upset at this episode, which surprised me for this was the same rabbit that had irritated her for years. He had trimmed her shrubs and perennials in ways that she definitely did not approve. And he flaunted her inability to stop or punish him by day after day stretching out on our lawn, legs extended and belly nestled into the grass, basking in the sun.


On many of those days my wife would finally lose her temper and rush out to chase away the little bunny. Off he would dash under the junipers and the chain link fence into one of our neighbors' yards, but ten minutes later he would be back: same posture, same spot. At such times I often heard Doris whisper to herself, "If only I had my dad's rifle,..."


Doris also went to great efforts to try to block the rabbit's reentry into our backyard. She put boards across below the gates despite my suggestion that this would have no effect. And of course, for once I was right as the rabbit next brought friends and relatives to join him.


This had gone on for years. Doris even tried to trap the rabbit with no success. Her Havahart trap did catch several raccoons, an opossum and a skunk. (Of course, I was the one who had to inch up to the trap to release the little stinker.) But no rabbit. Bugs Bunny to the contrary, this rabbit wasn't attracted to carrots.


I'll have to admit that even I found myself saddened by the demise of this animal. After all, he had given me so much entertainment observing his interaction with my wife. Despite the appearance of replacements, I knew that it would never be the same. This particular rabbit had a knack for setting off my wife.


Now my thoughts turned to what had happened. Although there are many possibilities, I am quite sure that it wasn't killed by the neighborhood sharp-shinned hawk that occasionally takes sparrows and chickadees from feeders. That hawk isn't big enough to have done this. We no longer have unleashed dogs and cats in our section and foxes and coyotes too would have been excluded by the fence. And we are a mile from Ellicott Creek so I doubt very much that this was the work of a mink or weasel.


If this killing had occurred a month or so later in the year, the snow would have given us evidence about what happened. We would almost certainly have found nearby tracks if it had been a mammalian predator.


I suspect, however, that this rabbit was killed by the great horned owl that nests in nearby Bahre Swamp. The snow would also have provided supportive evidence. The broad wings would have beaten down the snow on each side of its vicious attack.


Horned owls certainly do kill rabbits. One observer found the bodies of six rabbits in one horned owl nest. They are also notorious killers of ducks, Canada geese, porcupines and skunks: evidence of the latter is found in their terribly smelly nests.


The horned owl kills with its talons not its beak. Those claws are extremely strong and able to break a small animal's spine. In this case I presume that it simply squeezed so hard it neatly clipped off the rabbit's head. Leaving that it simply flew off with the carcass.


Several times since this violent death my wife has called my attention to the remaining bunnies. "Notice how they stay closer to the shelter of the junipers," she tells me. Indeed, perhaps rabbits do have memories.-- Gerry Rising