What was the screamer?


23rd October 2011: Fox and muntjac activity has increased in Hoo Wood with the current grazing of the north pasture. Late Friday evening I was making my way south through Hoo Wood, when I heard rustling and then the most unearthly screaming imaginable. The horrible noise came from the top of a high bramble covered bank – not more than ten meters from where I was standing. A tall chain-link fence marks the boundary between Hoo Farm Industrial Estate and the wood. There is a fox run along a narrow gap between the fence and the impenetrable bramble bushes. The width of the wood at this point is no more than twenty meters.

The pitch, tone and scare-factor of the terrible yowling would not be out-of-place on the set of a horror film; it might have been specially designed to frighten the life out of the intended audience. It is difficult for me to do justice to intensity of the screaming with mere words. I have seen and heard foxes kill rabbits, pheasants and pigeons, on many occasions. A rabbit can put on a terrific screaming show when it finds itself clamped firmly in a fox’s jaw, but the high-pitched plea for mercy I heard the other night was loud and very intense. There was no doubt in my mind that the screamer was fighting for its life. It’s not easy for me to accurately recall every detail of the screaming, particularly a couple of days after the event. At the time, my imagination very quickly conjured-up a vision of a baby being stuck with a hat pin as being a reasonable analogy. However, the pitch of this victim’s screaming was higher than that of a baby’s, so I didn’t feel compelled to rush headlong through the brambles to carry out a rescue mission. The screaming continued for about ten to fifteen seconds before it ceased – I suspected for ever. I believe I heard bones being crushed immediately the ordeal had ended, but the sounds could have been those of breaking twigs.

I mentioned this event to a WWT agronomist I was chatting to on the marsh yesterday afternoon. He suggested that a rabbit as the prey, and a polecat the predator. Apparently, a polecat will attempt to mesmerize its prey by running around it in circles, before darting in and making the kill when the time is right. However, whilst this is a plausible scenario, I remain sceptical. Two animals capable of emitting the high-volume piercing screaming I heard on Friday evening might be a Little Owl or a gull.

I will file the event away in the relevant brain compartment for retrieval when something similar occurs. My Cocker Spaniel can kill a rabbit in less than four seconds: with an efficient reflex action, he crushes them in his jaws. Foxes can probably kill a rabbit in less than four-second. Why did the scream last so long? Was it a polecat killing a rabbit?

8 Comments on “What was the screamer?

  1. It might have been a large rabbit. It would put up more of a struggle, and it might take a small fox longer to kill. I doubt the polecat scenario too. A Little owl? I doubt this . A gull? Possibility! It’s difficult to tell, not having heard the screaming in the first place.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jeff.

      I find the memory of an event dilutes in a matter of a few hours. The lesson is: write it up as soon as practicable and don’t leave it hanging in the air for a couple of days.

  2. I think you described the scream very well – I had a definite sense of how it sounded. I would have found it very distressing if I’d been on the spot myself. I certainly wouldn’t have ‘gone to the rescue’ (but my elderly Father would have, being adept at putting animals/birds out of their misery in his youth).

    • Thank you very much, Victoria.

      I was thinking of trying to work my was along the chain-ling fence in the hope of finding a few feathers, but it would take too much work. The main thing is that I would have to destroy the bramble tunnels that the fox has fashioned in the creation of its run, and I don’t want to do that.

  3. I presume you’ve heard foxes screaming (http://youtu.be/t8bK0qfWPKo).

    There was an instance I witnessed of a coyote near a fox’s den, and the screaming was more insistent and longer, especially when the coyote moved closer.

    Not saying that was it, but just in case . . .

    • Thanks very much for your comment. Yes, there is plenty of fox screaming on the marsh during the mating season. 🙂

      • I figured you might already know . . . but on the other hand, a mating scream might be different than a having-your-bones-crushed scream.

        I don’t use smilies, so I’ll say that’s humor there, at the end. Or an attempt at it, anyway.

  4. It is likely that the scream was a result of a weasel, polecat, or ferret, putting an end to a rabbit.

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