Night at the Museum / by Walter Kitundu

Keeping watch for the Palace of Fine Arts Barn Owls you invariably encounter the Racoons who haunt the trees and rocks ringing the lagoon. They roam the edges carefully reaching into submerged cracks seeking out food.

I've had a few close encounters with them but they generally shy away from coming too close. Earlier on this particular evening I'd seen a gull sitting alone on the rocks in the dark. It struck me as strange but the lure of the owls kept my focus skyward and I soon forgot about the bird. Twenty minutes later I heard a raucous sound and ducks scattered in all directions. I guessed the foraging racoons had scared up the mallards and kept watching the owls. The chattering slowly faded and silence returned to the palace grounds. After a while I was surprised at the lack of racoon activity and took a look across the water to find the cause of the commotion.

The racoon had found and killed the gull. My guess is the gull was weak or sick and the racoon was fulfilling its roles as generalist, omnivore, predator, and cleanup crew.

It ate its fill and 30 minutes later another racoon that had been waiting arrived for its share.

I often show mammals getting the short end of the stick in their interactions with birds of prey. It certainly goes both ways. It is amazing what goes on in a familiar landscape once the sun sets and the balance of power shifts.