Powerful owls eating possum heads at Merewether

Preyed On: Powerful owls are known to eat possum heads. Picture: Ray & Elma Kearney.

Preyed On: Powerful owls are known to eat possum heads. Picture: Ray & Elma Kearney.

Topics has long fancied ourselves as a bit of a Sherlock Holmes-type character.

Mind you, Inspector Clouseau would probably be a better comparison for our indisputable talents.

We reported recently that a Merewether reader sent us a picture of a headless animal in her backyard. Some reckoned it was a cat, others suggested a possum.

This prompted Janet Blanch, of Merewether, to send us a picture of a headless possum found in her yard.

“What sort of animal is capable of this destruction?” she pondered in an email.

Topics phoned Janet to discuss the matter.

“Someone suggested I should ring the police, but I thought it had to be an animal,” she said.

Topics did receive a call from another Merewether reader who suggested a human could be responsible for cutting heads off animals in the area.

But those who found the animals thought otherwise.

“It was the cleanest kill I’d ever seen,” Janet said.

“I know enough about animals to know someone hadn’t taken to it with a knife.”

Topics was contemplating this headless animal mystery when we had a lightbulb moment. 

We recalled seeing a picture a few years ago of a powerful owl with a dead possum in its talons.

Then we found information online from our Fairfax stablemate The Age in Melbourne, which quoted Dr Raylene Cooke from Deakin University.

“Powerful owls are devastating possum killers,” the story said.

“They swoop silently on the unsuspecting marsupial, break its neck with their hand-sized talons, eat its head, then finish the rest off later.

“They eat up to 300 possums a year each.”

Janet reckoned it was logical that a powerful owl or some other bird of prey was responsible for the headless possum found under her backyard verandah. 

No footprints were around the marsupial and no blood was on surrounding tiles.

This surely meant we could rule out the prospect of a four-legged animal having dragged the possum to its resting spot. 

However, a smear of blood was found on a glass sliding door.

It was indeed possible an owl could have flown under the verandah, hit the glass door and left the possum’s body behind.

It appeared the headless possum mystery had been solved.

“Who needs the police when you’ve got the Herald,” Janet said.

Who indeed.

“You should put in Topics that you’ve solved the problem,” she added.

Thanks Janet, we’ll do that. Now, does anyone else have any mysteries for us to solve?

Hello Cockie

While we’re on the subject of birds, it seems Newcastle has been invaded by cockatoos.

Newcastle’s Libby Maskey told Topics that a huge number of sulphur-crested cockies had taken up residence in Newcastle CBD.

Cockatoos have been spotted in large numbers in Newcastle CBD.

Cockatoos have been spotted in large numbers in Newcastle CBD.

Libby, who lives in a high-rise apartment, had never noticed cockatoos in town before.

“There’s hundreds of them. I’ve seen them on balconies, in trees, all over the place,” she said, adding “they’re fantastic”.

If anyone has any theories on why cockies have made Newcastle their home, let us know at topics@theherald.com.au.

Two Bob’s Worth

The passing of author and playwright Bob Ellis at age 73 sparked a memory for Herald theatre writer Ken Longworth.

The ALP warhorse had made a few appearances on stage, Ken said. He played the title character in Newcastle playwright Carl Caulfield’s 1995 play The Human Behan.

Ken chatted to Bob on the first day of rehearsals in Newcastle, noting he was “nervous about being on stage”.

“By the time the play’s three-week season at the then Mission Theatre began, Ellis made Brendan Behan a colourful and amusing character who was consumed by a fame he could not handle.”

He was nominated for a City of Newcastle Drama Award [CONDA] for best professional actor. 

He didn’t win the award, but hung around after the ceremony “conversing jovially with other audience members over drinks”.