Home invaders get angsty in quarantine too
It began a week after I returned home. Northeastern announced that all students must leave campus due to the outbreak of Covid-19, and my parents drove me and a car filled to the brim from Massachusetts to New Jersey. I looked forward to the comfort of my own bed and the quiet of my three person house, compared to the noisy communal halls of my freshman dorm. Or so I thought.
As I settled into attending class online, my sleep schedule adapted as well. I was going to bed later and waking up later, just in time for my morning classes. As I stayed up later at night, around just past midnight I began to hear thudding noises and scratching above my room. Our ranch house was built 40+ years ago, so for the first few nights I attributed the sounds to branches of the trees lining our property or squirrels scrambling across the roof paired with thin walls. Creaks and knocks were no new sounds. During the first week of these additional noises originating somewhere above my room, I experienced much difficulty sleeping. I listened to rain sounds on Youtube, ocean wave podcasts on Spotify, and even soothing lo-fi beats. I could only fall asleep from exhaustion by 3 AM most nights.
Obviously, the following mornings I would wake up cranky and unknowingly project on my parents. (Sorry Mom & Dad). By about a week and a half in, we realized there had to be some intruder making these noises in our home. We had never dealt with a home invader before. But this time we were under siege.
The sounds were more than just footsteps - they transformed into louder squealing and clonking and scruffing, more abrasively than before. They were almost creepy. The disruptions made me grind my teeth in a way I hadn't since I had braces in the eighth grade. My parents called a pest control company, who visited once, set a few basic small traps and told us they would return in a week. The noises did not abate, and on top of that, the pest control team did not come back even though we expected another visit.
Despite the often reminder of a guest in our home, any sounds I heard became ambience. Almost like trees blowing in the wind. Normally, I shoved my headphones in my ears and forced myself to tune them out. And complained to my friends about the blessing of ~constant background music~. Having an unwelcome guest is obviously not ideal at any point in time, but quarantine is certainly a time one can observe scientifically and confront without other more common issues standing in the way. This was my attempt at optimism on the subject.
What worsened as time passed was the odd chirping we heard during the daytime and especially in the mornings. We were convinced that we had birds in the attic. Because it was spring time, chicks had just hatched and were nesting in the accommodation above our first floor. Rent was free and naturally they took advantage.
Finally, we contacted an animal control company after no decline in the racket. My studious mother conducted more research and theorized that we had a different visitor: flying squirrels. Native to coniferous forests, flying squirrels literally look like chipmunks with wings. They like to nest in humans' attics or garages with their babies. They are highly active at nighttime and make scratching and chirping sounds. The math added up; we had our culprit.
By the third or fourth week of April, the day arrived that workers would enter our home again. My parents and I nervously pasted on our masks and laid down newspaper as a red carpet for the animal controllers leading up to the attic's entry point. I attended my classes while the investigative team took a look into our attic. By lunchtime, they knew: we had raccoons.
A pregnant mother allegedly punched her way through a grate near a tree on our lawn and scrambled into our attic in time to give birth to a litter of baby raccoons. Evidently, the immobile babies were hungry all the time and yelled about it all day long, providing the songs we had been listening to on repeat for almost a month. Thus, the animal control team set a trap for the mother without harming her or the children. They left our property, promised to return and we thanked them graciously.
A few days later, I was eating a midnight bowl of Lucky Charms in our kitchen and became aware of some unusual noises. Typically, the sounds came from above my or my parents' rooms. This time, the scratching seemed very close to me. And it sounded like it was heading downward. Unknowing of what to do in this new scenario, I attributed the sounds to the attic and went to bed.
The next morning, my dad headed to the garage to bring the trash can out for collection, only to discover that it was turned sideways and sorted through by tiny nimble paws. The raccoon had clearly found a pathway through the walls, which is what I heard the night previous, to the garage to nab food for her family. I guess single motherhood calls for desperate times. In any case, we called animal control again and they returned with more traps.
A drawing I did based on an actual picture of the very pissed mama raccoon outside our house.
Within the next couple days, we noticed the incessant scratching ceased and decidedly checked the traps - the mother was caught! Soon after, animal control returned to evacuate the children and remove the mother in the trap, then transport them to a safe non-residential location. Here is where I thought the story ended. However, my father debriefed me later in the day on further developments.
Yes, the babies were gone and so was the mother. But the mother was still alive and the babies were not. The mother ate the babies.
A different scenario could have occurred in which the father of the raccoon babies entered the nest and ate the babies out of some weird raccoon instinct. I honestly don't know. I could not answer any of your scientific questions about this story of betrayal and cannibalism.
One would not think that animal control employees are essential workers. However, in such a strange time during which we are trapped at home alongside whoever decides to plant real estate above or below us, they are very necessary. My family is extremely grateful to the workers who risked their health to enter our home and assist us in our quest to live in a single family home once again. If you know an exterminator of any sort, tell them the Magners say thank you for their service. And keep them handy, just in case.