PAGE THREE | Scene and Heard

Couple Startled by Noises in the Night Find Animals Can Be a Real Scream

In Vermont, a red fox licks its chops while devouring a chicken it had snatched from a nearby farm.
In Vermont, a red fox licks its chops while devouring a chicken it had snatched from a nearby farm. (By Francis Moran -- Associated Press)
Friday, September 5, 2008

Okay, a bear was recently snared near Annapolis, we've had a beaver in the Tidal Pool and deer outnumber sport-utility vehicles in some of our suburbs. But what animal was shrieking like a woman in distress in this Bethesda back yard?

In the still of a moonlit night, my wife and I were awakened at 3 a.m. by a ghastly scream, then a series of screams. As I fumbled to put in my contact lenses, I thought the voice resembled Janet Leigh's in that famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." I tried to see what was going on in our neighbor's back yard, but I couldn't see much.

"Oh my God, someone is getting murdered next door," my wife said, before remembering that the neighbors were away on vacation. She decided to call the police.

"It's a series of screams. Can you hear it?" she said as she raised the phone speaker to the window.

"We'll send someone right away," the police dispatcher said.

"But the screams all sound the same," I protested. "A human scream would not be repeated so neatly."

After about five minutes, police cars arrived: three of them, sirens off. The officers inspected our neighbor's yard with their flashlights. By then, the screams had ceased, and only the laughter and conversation of the police disturbed the summer air. They did not knock on our door to demand an explanation.

The next morning, a Saturday, I was determined to find the source of the screams. If it's not a human scream, it is an animal's, I concluded. Elementary, as Sherlock Holmes would say.

How to solve this mystery was the challenge. First, I turned to Google and typed in "animal screams."

Here is the query I found on

"Hi, I have been hearing an animal scream, it is very scary. . . . I would like to know where I can compare a few animal sounds to find out what this may be. It almost sounds like a woman screaming. I live in Virginia."

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