While out hiking yesterday, I ran into a few other hikers who told me they had just witnessed an incredible sight. At first I was a little confused, but then they explained that just down the path a little bit, a snake was eating baby birds while the parents were going crazy trying to stop it. So I started down the trail expecting to see a baby bird or two that had fallen from the nest being eaten on the ground by a snake, but when I got there I was shocked to find that the snake was in the tree attacking the nest.
When I first got close, the snake had wrapped around the nest and branches to support itself while the momma and poppa Wood Thrushes bounded about scolding the snake and taking small swipes at it. I believe this is Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta), one of Pennsylvania's most abundant, but non-poisonous, snakes. This isn't the first time I've witnessed Black Rat Snakes in a tree and their climbing abilities never cease to amaze me.
In order to get close enough so that branches and leaves weren't in my way, I had to move further into the bush and I ended up pretty close to the nest and the snake. In this photo, the snake was obviously moving something around in the nest, I can only assume it was trying to position the baby bird so it could get it into its mouth.
I was getting frustrated because the snake's head was down in the nest and I couldn't get a good picture, so I held my camera up above the nest and was able to get a picture of it trying to work the baby bird into position for swallowing.
As the snake continued to work to get the bird in its mouth, I was able to get a pic with some of the features of the bird visible. In this pic, the bird's foot and even a few feathers are visible while the back of the snake's head changes shape.
The snake continues to try to get bird into its mouth, the bird's wing is visible on the right side of the snake's mouth.
At this point, the snake has the baby bird nearly swallowed and it's jaw has dislocated while its neck stretches to swallow the bird.
The entire time this was happening, the Wood Thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) were trying their best to scare the snake off, but their screaming and jumping around did little to dissuade the snake. As a matter of fact, I was so close to the snake and the nest that a few times the Wood Thrushes would actually make contact with the top of my head, but since I was so focused on the snake I hardly noticed.
Despite the Wood Thrushes best efforts, their nest is now empty. I'm not sure how many baby birds the snake ate before I arrived, but the one I did see it eat is now clearly visible as a bulge in the snakes body (center of pic).
I watched as the snake stuck its head back into the nest several more times, I guess making sure there was nothing else to eat, and then it gave me just a second to get this great profile picture. It's weird, but the snake almost looks like it is smiling.
After another few seconds, the snake all of a sudden turned its attention to me. Since I had to basically climb up, into the bush to get the pictures, it was at that moment that I realized how close I actually was and when I snapped this picture, the lense of my camera was no more than 4 or 5 inches from his head. At that time I decided it was a good time to leave.
I went back a few days later and the nest is now abandoned. The Wood Thrushes have moved on... and while a snake feeding on baby birds is a pretty intense thing to watch, the snake was just doing what comes naturally to it. After all, it was just another part of the great cycle of life.
"To a bird, on the other hand, worms are a legitimate part of the joy of life and he sees no incongruity in the fact that they are turned into song."
- Joseph Wood Crutch