Things That Go Bump In The Night-
Is It A Ghost Or Animal?

D. Crawford
Nuisance Wildlife Relocation Specialist

When conducting any investigation into paranormal activity, our first priority should be to
find (or rule out) a natural cause for the phenomena.  Whether or not we actually do find
a natural explanation to the problem, the scientific approach lends credibility to our
research.  If our research reveals a natural cause for the phenomena, we demonstrate
that we are scientific-minded and that we are eager to accept a natural explanation. If our
research shows no natural cause, we can then consider the possibility of a bona fide
ghost or poltergeist, and we stand up better to criticism from skeptics.

One logical explanation, which should always be considered, is the possibility that the
observed phenomena could be caused by animals.  

Before you assume it’s a spirit when something goes bump in the night, make sure you’
re not simply being “haunted” by local wildlife.  Noises heard in the attic, basement,
chimney or walls often can be attributed to birds and other animals who sometimes take
refuge in these places.  

Look for hints of animal occupation like feces, tracks in the dust, nests, gnaw marks,
shed hair and feathers, or hoarded objects.  Make sure that your house is well sealed so
that local wildlife can’t use your walls, attic or basement as housing.

You don’t have to live in a rural area to have problems with wildlife.  Owls, bats,
raccoons and birds of all kinds often adapt easily to human neighbors and may be found
in any urban or suburban environment where trees, gardens and shrubbery are
plentiful.  Even if you don’t have trees or bushes at your own home, you may still be
visited by wildlife originating from a neighbor’s yard, a nearby park, a cemetery or a patch
of woods nearby.

Several animals make vocalizations that sound disturbingly similar to a human scream.  
Screech owls sound very much like a woman screaming in terror.  Rabbits in severe
distress can shriek like a baby or toddler in grievous pain.  

Many years ago, I lived across the street from a 150-year-old cemetery.  Neighbors were
superstitious about the place because they often heard screaming noises coming from
the graveyard at night.  I heard the sounds myself.  My own investigation revealed
screech owls nesting in the groundskeeper’s work shed.  

Large owls and snakes hunting at night sometimes catch a rabbit, and the rabbit’s death
shrieks can be bloodcurdling in its similarity to an infant’s scream.  Some species of
birds make sounds very much like a wailing infant, and if a stray dog or cat takes refuge
in your basement or crawlspace, the mewling of pups or kittens can sound similar to a
crying child.

Raccoons and other animals can make vocalizations that sound similar to non-verbal
human vocalization, sounds that might be mistaken for a human giggling, murmuring or

If you hear wordless vocalizations that sound like human screaming, crying, weeping,
whispering, laughing or moaning, contact the biology department at a local university,
the local chapter of the Audubon society, your state department of fish and wildlife,
Animal Control, or your county extension agent to find information about which species
of animals living in your area might make such a noise.

Rustling noises are frequently reported in hauntings.  Rustling noises coming from the
walls or chimney can be caused by any number of creatures: bats, rats, raccoons,
chimney swifts, etc.  Bats or birds rustling their wings in the chimney or inside a wall can
sound frighteningly similar to human whispering; the noises made by a colony of bats
jostling for space may even sound like the rustle of silk skirts.  A metal chimney shaft can
sometimes produce a megaphone effect, making the noise seem louder or more intense
than you might suspect.

Some frogs can make noises that sound very much like human moaning, sighing or
grunting, especially if they are trapped in a place where sounds can echo and magnify,
like a well, septic tank, or drainpipe.  Bullfrogs, pig-frogs and some toads can make deep
grunting or moaning noises, which could be mistaken for human-like sounds.  If these
kinds of noises are coming from a damp basement or crawl space, a frog may be the
culprit…especially in the spring and summer months.  

If you find evidence of wildlife living in and around your home, contact your city or county
Animal Control Center, a local humane society, or your state department of wildlife.  
These organizations can help with the humane removal of these animals.  If you have a
problem with rats and mice, you may wish to call an exterminator.

Don’t forget that some animals, like raccoons, like to hoard small objects.  If small objects
disappear or seem to move about on their own around your home, don’t assume you
have a poltergeist.  You should inspect your home for any openings which might allow a
raccoon, packrat or crow to have access to these items.  Raccoons in your walls,
basement or attic might be responsible for the disappearance or rearrangement of small
objects – especially shiny or reflective items like keys, coins, driver’s licenses, credit
cards, or small plastic toys.  

I have a friend who once lived in an upstairs apartment in which the kitchen window
offered a close-up view of the upper branches of the tree outside.  She often left the
window open.  Small items “vanished” from her home on a regular basis – keys, small
toys, Christmas tree decorations, and so forth.  She suspected paranormal activity until
she caught a raccoon in the act, waddling over the kitchen windowsill while clutching a
small toy car.

Here are some questions to help you determine whether or not your problem may be
caused by nuisance wildlife:

Are the noises seasonal?  If you hear disturbing noises only at a certain time of year
(particularly winter, when wildlife may be using your home as shelter), there’s a good
chance the noises are not ghostly.

Have you found evidence of animals living in and around your home?  This might include
droppings, bits of fur, feathers, snake sheds, gnaw marks from rodents, urine stains,
scratch marks, strong odors of feces, urine, or musk, and other signs that animals have
been around.

Do the noises occur consistently at a certain time of day?  Some animals make noise
when they are waking up or going to sleep.  Nocturnal animals, for example, may
vocalize, scratch, or make other noises at dusk, when they are waking up, and at dawn,
when they are settling in to rest during the daylight hours.

In particular, do the noises come from parts of the house where wildlife could have easy
access to cozy places?  Noises coming from the attic, basement, exterior walls, crawl
spaces, garage and chimney should be investigated for animal invaders before you
conduct a ghost hunt.

Sometimes, of course, one actually sees wildlife indoors.  In almost every case, the
animal has simply wandered in by mistake through an open window or door, a crack in
the walls, or some other means of access.  

Hollywood movies like to suggest that bats, snakes, spiders, crows and other unpopular
animals are signs of an “evil presence.”  In fact, they are ordinary animals who end up in
your house by mistake.  A snake in your bedroom is not an “agent of the Devil.”  She’s
just hungry.  She’s probably just following the scent trail left by a mouse, and she got in
through the same hole the mouse used to gain entrance to your home.

If you find snakes, bats, birds or other animals in your home, do not attempt either to kill
them or remove them yourself.  Seek professional assistance from Animal Control, your
state department of wildlife, an exterminator or another animal handling professional.  
There are sensible reasons to do so.  Bats can carry rabies.  Some snakes are venomous
and should only be handled by a professional.  Other snakes are harmless, and it is
pointless and inhumane to kill them when they could simply be removed from your home
and placed in a wooded area where they can continue to do their job of keeping rodents
under control.  Never attempt to catch, kill or otherwise handle a wild animal of any size
unless you are an animal handling professional.  

I posted this information in hopes of giving professional and amateur paranormal
researchers some basic information about those general animal behaviors which might
be mistaken for ghostly activity.   This information is based on my experience as a
nuisance animal management professional.  If you need additional guidance you may
address e-mail to me at

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