Last week’s column covered a most puzzling occurrence at my home. But readers have offered their thoughts.

In a nutshell: Four baby birds vanished from a nest in a fern hanging above my front porch. One baby bird was found dead on the porch but the others that were in the nest (and much too young to fly) disappeared without a trace. There were no signs of any sort of struggle or evidence that they had been taken in a hasty or messy manner.

I detailed the case and the clues and several readers wrote in (or stopped me on the street) to let me know what they thought had happened to the baby birds.

I’m going to include a few of the most compelling theories.

1. The cat did it. I’ve said before that there is at least one cat who enjoys lounging (unwelcomed) on my front porch. He gets on my cracker barrel rocking chairs and uses them as his personal scratching post and it infuriates me. I was hoping to blame the cat for the demise of the little birds because I imagined that it could have climbed up on the porch railing and then leapt into the hanging basket containing the nest. However, I thought that would certainly leave evidence. But there was none. However, there are several people who are convinced that the cat did it.

2. A snake in the grass. The theory of a snake being the culprit had not occurred to me until someone brought it up. When you think about it, a snake could have slithered up along the top of the porch and then climbed down into the large fern, gulping down the baby birds with ease. It wouldn’t have left any evidence of its presence as another predator would.

3. Starlings. This theory was brought to me by a neighbor of mine and he seemed convinced of it. As I walked my dog past his house he came over to me and said that starlings will often pluck baby birds right out of their nests. Being small, light birds themselves, they wouldn’t have disturbed the fern much in its hanging basket and would have made off with the babies one by one.

However, one of the most compelling analyses of this case came from a reader named Larry.

Y’all lemme tell ya ... Larry is the Perry Mason of Rome, Georgia, because he broke this case down, established means and motive, cross-examined witnesses, presented evidence and now I’m over here baffled by his findings.

Per Larry ...

It doesn’t take a Miss Marple to figure out the answer to your front porch bird mystery. As any fan of TV murder mystery shows would know, in order to get a conviction you need to establish that the suspect had the big three elements: the means, the opportunity and a motive.

The suspects are: the Celanese cat, your dog, the proverbial random stranger and yourself.

The cat had opportunity — he hung around on your porch, and he certainly had motive: cats like to hunt and he was probably hungry. But the cat lacks the means to pull off the caper without leaving abundant evidence of having leapt onto the fern.

The dog lacked opportunity as it was inside the house at the time the crime was committed. The dog also lacked motive, as dogs don’t usually show much interest in baby birds. The dog, like the cat, also lacked the means to get at the bird nest without leaving a horrible mess. So it’s safe to say the dog is innocent.

Friends, neighbors and relatives of the murder victim often suggest the crime was committed by some homicidal (or in this case avicidal) maniac, vagrant, or random stranger. This is because either a) they are not clever enough to imagine that someone close to the victim could have done such a horrific deed, or b) because they are trying to divert attention away from the true culprit. No, it’s never the random stranger because it just wouldn’t make for a good murder mystery to have someone who is not even a part of the story being the guilty party. So we can dismiss theories of random hawks, lunatic foxes and crazed opossums being to blame.

And since this is not a British murder mystery, there is no need to accuse the butler or the upstairs maid.

This only leaves yourself as the prime suspect. You say you did not do it. Do you have an alibi? You certainly had opportunity — you admitted you came home to let the dog out. As for means, you could have drowned the baby birds while watering the fern, and then disposed of the evidence. Or maybe you plucked the birds out of their nest and left them for the cat to deal with.

As for motive, the evidence is abundant. You were not happy with having the birds on your porch. You stated “it was very inconvenient.” You make your living by writing columns about these types of incidents. And by staging this so-called mystery, you provided yourself with more material to write about.

...

I feel like I need to seek legal counsel after Larry’s convincing arguments. If a Rome area attorney would like to do some pro bono work, please holler at me. Sure, I never liked the baby birds being there ... but I am innocent of these accusations.

Severo Avila is Features Editor for the Rome News-Tribune.

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