Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mystery of the Headless Rabbit Finally Solved

For those of you unfamiliar with the mystery of the headless rabbit, the following links should help get you up to speed with the situation:

As you can see from the above links, this is in fact a very real phenomenon. For the better part of the last decade, these stories of extremely mysterious rabbit beheadings have occasionally surfaced, with sightings of the headless bunny being reported on both sides of the Atlantic.

When these reports have surfaced in the past, mini-frenzies of speculation, theories and debunking have ensued. Up until this point, theories about who or what might be perpetrating these crimes have been just that. With virtually no evidence to go by, the case of the headless rabbit has made for an intriguing news story, but any and all serious attempts at getting to the bottom of this mystery have stirred speculation but ultimately fallen flat. Until now.

My own experience with the headless rabbit

I was walking through the woods with my brother a few weeks ago when we noticed a strange sight: a dead rabbit was firmly entrenched beneath a fallen tree branch. A closer look revealed that this rabbit was missing its head.

One of our neighbors (where I live, neighbors can be a half-mile or more away) had mentioned that his dogs would occasionally bring home decapitated rabbits. There had been sightings off strange people in dark robes wandering the road late at night, so we attributed the rabbit beheadings to devil worshipers or some occult ritual.

Several years had passed in between my own encounter with the headless rabbit and the sightings reported by my neighbor. Needless to say, I found the thought of occult sacrifices still being practiced so near my home disturbing to say the least, but I digress.

The Crime Scene Investigation

A few hours after we initially made the startling discovery, I decided to return to the scene of the crime to see if I could find any clues that might help shed some light on this mystery. If there were people sacrificing animals in the woods behind my home, I wanted to know about it.

The first thing I did was examine the corpse. The thing that jumped out at me about the body was the manner in which it was entrenched in the dirt beneath a fallen tree branch (too small to qualify as a limb, but with many branches and twigs above the corpse). The rabbit had clearly breathed its last breath in the exact position it was in when we found it. This is significant for two reasons: 1) Whatever killed the rabbit cut its head off while in the position we found it; 2) The tree branches and twigs would have been too much of an obstruction for a human to have decapitated the rabbit without moving it first.

In light of this, and in conjunction with the fact that no other evidence was found indicating that humans had even been present at or around the time of death, I decided to move on and try to figure out other animal could have committed this crime.

At this point, the suspect list contained a bobcat, coyotes, a hawk, an owl and a local strain of bobcat-housecat hybrids. Of these, the first two would have eaten the entire rabbit, and thus can effectively be removed from the primary suspect list. The last animal on the list is an unlikely suspect because most of them get fed by humans and don't need the food bad enough to risk being maimed by a wild rabbit.

As I contemplated narrowing the focus of the investigation to center around predatory birds, I spotted what would become the first big break in the case. As I surveyed the scene, I observed a massive deposit of liquefied bird droppings on the ground under a large tree limb about 20 feet from the rabbit. I was later able to positively identify this as hawk droppings.

Seeing this, I began to look around more carefully. Not more than 8 feet from the hawk droppings, there was a pile of rabbit droppings. A closer look revealed a trail of rabbit hair and blood on the ground between the rabbit droppings and the headless carcass.

Amid all the evidence, I present the following scenario: Thumper emerges from the forest just before dusk. Minding his own business, he decides he needs to take a crap. A hungry hawk oversees this from the tree limb above. The hawk swoops down and attacks the rabbit, who was still immersed in his bowel movement and quite surprised by the attack. A struggle ensues during which the hawk, with its talons and razor-sharp beak, tears into the rabbit pulling out bunches of hair while opening the wounds that would ultimately prove fatal for poor Thumper, who tries his best to rid himself of the merciless hawk. Unfortunately for Thumper, he was unsuccessful. Ultimately, the rabbit dragged the hawk until it reached its final resting place, where it dug in and firmly entrenched its claws in the ground below. Either because it was unable to carry the entire rabbit in flight, or because the rabbit was too entrenched to be removed, the hawk chose to salvage what it could, severing the head to bring back to its nest.

The only question that remains is that of why the hawk took only the rabbit's the head, leaving the meaty body behind.
An interesting fact about this case is that the rabbit's brain is the only part of its body containing substantial quantities of fat. All animals need to ingest some fat from time to time, and it is possible that this particular hawk's nutritional needs (or those of its young) were sufficiently met by the Rabbit's brain, with no need for additional proteins. Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no way a single hawk could eat an entire rabbit before it decomposed beyond the point of edibility.

While admittedly, I do not know the precise answer to the question of why just the head, I think that the evidence against the hawk is overwhelming and sufficient to convict. I am content to declare this case closed. If you disagree, feel free to voice your dissent in the comments below.


Peter Egan said...

Another odd twist to the story that I forgot to mention is that the whole thing occurred on holy ground. The Catholic Church owns 1,100 acres of pure, unadulterated wilderness in South Louisiana that adjoins a monastery, seminary school and actual church. IF anyone else was there at the scene of the crime at or about the time it occurred - in defiance of all probability - the chances are overwhelming that it would have been a holy man of some sort, certainly not the type of person one would expect to be performing ritualistic animal sacrifices.

Another thing is that wild rabbits are one of the toughest animals to capture alive. If a person committed the beheading, they'd have had to capture a wild rabbit first, which is much easier said than done.

The perpetrator being a hawk certainly doesn't make for the best story line, and I admit I was a bit disappointed when I accepted that conclusion. However, if you take an honest look at the evidence, it reads something like this:

- We have established that a hawk was at the scene of the crime at or about the time it occurred.
- There was no other evidence of any other animals or people present.
- The trail of hair the stretched between the rabbit droppings and the carcass looked as though it had been pulled out forcefully by a beak.
- The bird droppings were definitely from a hawk and not an owl (owl droppings are more compact and solid, as where hawk droppings are more of a splattering of liquid).

I'm trying to get the photos from my brother. He's having some trouble getting them off his phone. I will attach them to the post if and when he figures out how transfer them to a computer or send them to another phone.

Cory said...

This morning I found the second decapitated rabbit within a one year time span on my property. I live in a small mid-western town and found it quite odd that the head was missing from these rabbits. This morning when I found my second rabbit, my dog found it under a small shrub. 40 ft away beneath another larger bush I found more remains. We had just had a fresh snow fall and there were no tracks of any kind around either bush. My only guess is that a hawk must have done this. Oddly enough, I did not find the skull. I can understand it eating the brains, so would the hawk have taken it to it's nest?

Peter Egan said...


Thank you for commenting.

Yes. At least that would be my guess as to what happened to it. I haven't ruled out owls either.

A rabbit's brain is the only part of its entire body with any significant amount of fat on it. Whatever is tearing the heads off of these rabbits has a dietary need for fat and likely consumes too much protein on average.

Granted, I'm no scientist. But that's my theory anyway...

Kitty said...

I found a "headless" jack rabbit with it's skull missing on my back porch this morning. It freaked me out! Lots of blood splatted on the patio walls and concrete where it died. It's full body was there including all 4 feet. What was left was the heart (seperate & creepy) 2 ears approx 8 inches long, nose and teeth left all neatly together with the eyes picked out clean. But...NO skull!
The jack rabbit was approx 7 lbs.
We have large owls and hawks in the area, and I have lived here approx 40 years and have never seen anything like this. My place is remote but fully fenced. No coyote or dog could have gotten in.
I have a french bulldog and rat terrier who were not at home. Now I'm freaked out about what's flying around that could trap and kill a big jack rabbit on my porch and eat it's brains out. SICK!!

emma girls tees - arizona said...

In Arizona we found two headless rabbits in one week. We also saw a bobcat sitting on our fence eating a rabbit. We suspect the hawk that hangs around... but who knows. A business partner of mine lives in Prescott on a golf course and found two headless rabbits last week.

Yellowbird daone said...

I found one this A.M. in my driveway beside my car. I am baffled too. It was a clean visible blood. No visible hawk or other droppings. But that would be rather hard to see in the muddled lawn..

Anonymous said...

i found 2 headless rabbits this summer in my yard one in july one in august at first i thought i ran it over when cutting my lawn. felt bad and buried the poor thing. but when i saw the second one, i became a little suspicious, the strange thing is im hearing about it being a hawk. but i find them overnight just before sunup. do hawks hunt in the dark. reason asking i get up early a.m. to walk the dog, still kinda dark and i'm finding them, at least the last one. is it possible it could be a raccoon, because years ago my dad use to raise pigeons, one morning he went to feed them and it was a slaughter house, they were all beheaded.

Paul said...

Hello - great post and comments. I stumbled upon this older post as I was searching for clues to another headless rabbit story. I live on Vancouver Island in a rural area. Early this morning the dog barked through our living room window at something large. I glanced a bird (not sure if it was a large owl or hawk - most likely an owl as it was still dawn and there are many owls around our acreage. When I looked down, literally 2 feet from the window, there was a dead rabbit. On closer inspection, the rabbit's head was removed. What struck me was the precision of the head removal, no blood, tears or wounds...just like it had been lanced with a scalpel. Several feet from the corpse were the intestines in perfect condition, glossy and undamaged. I assumed pulled out when the head was severed. Thought I had scared the owl mid feast, but apparently, it's the fatty tissue of the brains the owl wants.

Peter Egan said...

Thank you for sharing your story Paul and everyone else who has shared their own experiences with headless rabbits.