When we found the first headless squirrel in our yard, we thought it was strange. When we found the second, we started to dig deeper for an answer...

As the summer season approaches New York State, plants and animals are more active than ever. Gardens are blooming, birds are leaving the nest, and at least at our home in Newburgh, NY, something is decapitating local squirrels.

Photos of squirrels in a yard
Squirrels have been found in Newburgh, NY with their heads missing (pawopa3336/Allen Allnoch via Canva)

Headless Squirrels in Newburgh, NY

Finding a dead animal can be distressing. Unfortunately, mating seasons for many of New York's residents like skunks and turtles often coincide with higher mortality rates, as their increased activity means more chances to interact with humans (and their cars). But it definitely wasn't a vehicle that severed our squirrel's heads from their bodies... so what did?

An inquiry on Facebook (above) yielded little help, but some further sleuthing pointed to several suspects. It turns out that squirrel head can be considered quite the delicacy by a few predators.

A hawk eating a squirrel
Hawks are one of the most common squirrel predators in New York State (Peter Accordino/yhelfman via Canva)

Suspect #1: A Hawk

The first culprit I'd like to question is our neighborhood hawk. Hawks have been caught on camera "carefully decapitat[ing]" squirrels and leaving their bodies behind. There's also anecdotal evidence that birds like hawks and owls prefer to bring squirrel heads back to their hungry chicks.

A red fox and squirrel
Foxes are expert hunters of small rodents like squirrels (JonPauling/nynkevanholten via Canva)

Suspect #2: A Fox

Just the other day, I did a double-take when I looked out my kitchen window: walking just outside my backyard fence was the largest fox I had ever seen. Could it have been on a squirrel hunting mission? And if so, why eat just the head?

Photo of a squirrel and a guillotine
It seems like some animals only want to eat the heads of the squirrels they kill (nynkevanholten/LindaMarieB/Canva)

Why Would a Predator Only Eat a Head?

While a definitive answer was hard to find, there may be two reasons for the head-only diet. The first is that brains are one of the most nutrient-dense parts of an animal, so a hungry predator's focus may solely be on the head. Second, a predator could have began with the head and then been frightened off before they had time to finish their meal.

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As long as there's not a psychopath squirrel serial killer on the loose, I'm happy to let nature be nature, even if it's gruesome. Check out some pretty gory evidence that predator birds often go after more than heads below.

Stunning Photos Capture Falcon Tearing into Another Bird Along Hudson

Photos: Massive Eagles Fight Over Fish on the Hudson

Gallery Credit: Jonah