It began with a phone call from a recent client. The client was a single, young man who had purchased a typical suburban rambler in the Washington, D.C., area. Settlement had gone fine, and he’d happily moved into the home. He worked from home, so he was in the house all day.
He had been getting used to the sounds a home makes during the day and at night. Houses make faint sounds with the ticks and groans we all expect and come to recognize as being benign. He was becoming familiar with the sounds and was beginning to recognize some through discovery and accident.
Then he called me in a panic because he was convinced he had a pack of wild animals living in his attic. He had tried to look into the attic but the space and darkness were too intimidating for him to venture into, so he was calling to ask if I would be willing to return.
I referred him to the county animal control office and a local trapping service, but he was adamant that he much preferred my returning to perform the investigation. He wanted an independent opinion. I asked a series of questions as to how frequent were the sounds, which part of the home, what time of day? He answered, saying they were constant but irregular all day and into the night.
I asked him to describe the sounds. He said, they were like something jumping and then running across the attic atop his ceilings and that they were random from one end of the house to the other. We set the appointment.
Upon my arrival, I set up the ladder and cautiously entered the attic. I could see no reflected eyes looking back from the flashlight beam, and I found no indication of any nesting or anticipated animal droppings atop the insulation.
After examining the attic from end to end and finding no live creatures, I decided to stand still with the flashlight off and maybe hear them skulking about. What I did hear was a quiet thump and then a rapid skittering sound like a scurrying animal. My client yelled up into the attic, ‘There it is. Do you see them?’
My answer was ‘no,’ but I said let’s be patient a bit. I waited another five minutes and the same event happened just behind me. I immediately hit the flashlight switch, but could see nothing different.
Then I got suspicious and left the attic. The client seemed confused, but I said maybe it was on the outside and that I needed to take a look from the roof surface.
I stood on the roof and waited. I heard another quiet bump, followed by the same skittering sound on the opposite side of the roof. I stood on the ridge and waited a few more minutes. Then, I found the source of the noises.
Acorns were dropping, hitting the roof with a quiet bump, then rolling down the shingles, making the sound of scurrying legs. It took having the client watch the event three times to finally convince him he had no attic creatures, simply the anomaly of living below an old oak tree.
As I drove off, I had to chuckle to myself because it was an easy diagnosis from simple observation. I have since been able to calm other clients by describing that experience so that they also can check for dropping acorns when they are convinced they, too, have critters in the attic.