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SNAKE CATCHES HUMMINGBIRD AT FEEDER

         Ruby-throated hummingbirds face a host of perils. One of these is being caught by a snake.  Over the years, hummingbird fanciers have sent me pictures of snakes coiled around feeders seemingly patiently waiting to pluck an unsuspecting hummingbird out of the air as it flies in to catch a quick meal. Since this unsettling scene is rarely reported, I suspect it does not happen very often.  In our case, during the decades my wife and I have been feeding hummingbirds we had never seen it until this past week.  Not only did I find a rat snake hanging onto one of our feeders, it was also clutching a hapless hummingbird in its gaping mouth.  None of the photos I have received in the past ever captured this.

        All of this changed when I stepped out on to on our deck on a quiet late summer morning less than a week ago and spotted what appeared to be a dark lump on the far side of one of our hummingbird feeders. I immediately stopped and tried to figure out what I was looking at.  When I advanced closer to the feeder, I could see that the unknown object was a young rat snake.  It was so small (three feet long) that it did not have to wrap itself around the feeder.

       Once I realized what I was looking at, I turned around and went back into the house to tell my wife to grab her camera and hurry outside to see what was taking place.  On the way back outside, I picked up my camera too.

       When we returned, we realized that the best view of the snake was from the yard.  When we found just the right spot to record the event, we started snapping pictures. All of this time the snake remained motionless.  Finally, the snake moved its head away from the perch that encircled the feeding ports enough for us to realize it was just not waiting for a bird—it had already caught one and was in the process of swallowing it headfirst.  Initially all we could see of the hummingbird was its emerald green back, wings, tail, and legs.

 

 

       As we stood, transfixed, the snake began making swallowing motions that consisted of moving its head forward and opening and closing it mouth.  As it did so, the bird slowly slipped deeper into the snake’s mouth and throat.  Remarkably, in only five to 10 minutes the bird disappeared. 

       I then removed the feeder from the shepherd’s hook on which it was hung, and slowly walked to the far back of our spacious backyard and set the feeder on the ground.  Throughout the whole process, the snake showed no signs of fear. However, when I placed the feeder on the grass the snake slowly slithered off.

       Of course, we are disappointed that we lost a hummingbird to a rat snake. However, we realize that each year an untold number of hummingbirds succumb to predators, being caught in spider webs, accidents, and disease. At the same time, it will not hurt of feelings if we never witness it again.

THE DANGER POSED BY COPPERHEADS IN GEORGIA YARDS

       The chances of finding a poisonous snake in a Georgia backyard are low.  However, if one does appear, throughout most of the state, it will be a copperhead. One reason for this is the snake is ranges throughout the Peach State except in that portion of the southeastern Coastal Plain below the Altamaha River.  Another reason is copperheads appear to be more tolerant of human development than other species of poisonous snakes.

       While nobody ever wants to find a poisonous snake in their yard, if one does appear, probably the one that you want to see is the copperhead.  It is not an aggressive snake.  As such, more often than not, copperheads will only strike when they are disturbed or folks try to pick them up.

       Unfortunately, copperheads do bite humans. An average of 2,920 copperhead bites occurs annually. The good news is, since copperhead venom is the least potent of any poisonous snake found in North America, copperhead bites are rarely life-threatening.  In fact, only 0.01 percent of these bites are fatal.

 

 

EATING FIRE ANTS MAY HELP FENCE LIZARDS DEVELOP AN IMMUNITY AGAINST FIRE ANT VENOM

        Since fire ants were accidentally introduced into the United States during the twentieth century, they have plagued both humans and native wildlife.  However, findings of research conducted by biologists at Pennsylvania State University suggest that fence lizards that eat fire ants increase their immunity to the fire ant venom. 

       The researchers found that blood tests of the fence lizards that consumed dead fire ants three times a week developed three different types of increased immunity against the fire ant venom.

       It is interesting to note that being stung by the fire ants did increase the lizards’ immunity against future stings.

HALLOWEEN AND WILDLIFE FOLKLORE

        Unfortunately, folktales link many of our backyard wildlife neighbors such as owls, toads, snakes, and bats to Halloween.  That being the case, with Halloween only a few weeks away, there is no better time to dispel one of the tall tales regarding one of these unfortunate animals — the toad.

        The animals associated with Halloween have a number of things in common.  For example, many are creatures of the night.  This is a time when folktales tell us these animals consort with witches and goblins.  Such associations are enough to malign any animal.  As such, it is not surprising that people fear the toad.  Although we are not afraid toads will bite us, many people honestly believe that, if you touch a toad, you will get warts.  Apparently, toads also infect witches with warts as they are often depicted with warts on their noses.  Let’s do a fact check and see if this bit of folklore is actually true.

        The origin of this belief was long ago lost in the mists of history.  However, it is widely believed this notion originated from the fact that the skins of toads are covered with lots of oddly shaped warts.  Since medical knowledge was rudimentary at that time in history, this conclusion was not disputed and took on a life of its own.  Who among us has not heard our father or mother tell us not to pick up that toad, because will give your warts?  

        The truth of the matter is warts are caused by something called a human papillion virus.  There are 150 or so viruses of this type.  They most often infect humans through a cut or scratch.  It has been suggested that one of the reasons children seem to develop warts more than adults is their roughhousing make them more prone to get scratches and cuts.  In addition, the fact that their immune systems have not yet fully developed makes them more susceptible to many infections like warts.

        I can personally attest to the fact that toads do not cause warts.  When my granddaughter was a youngster, I often accompanied her on forays into the dark to see how many toads she could capture in a single night.  On a good night, she might catch a dozen or more of the “warty” critters.  After examining and photographing them, she released them where they were captured.  During these unforgettable adventures, she never developed any warts.  However, I was left with a wealth of priceless memories.

        I hope that I have dispelled this folktale.  Unfortunately, I suspect that the belief that toads can infect us with warts will be around for many Halloweens to come.

HELPING BOX TURTLES CROSS THE ROAD

     Whenever you see a box turtle attempting to cross a busy highway, I am sure you cannot help but be concerned the reptile can safely complete its perilous journey.  Indeed, with traffic volume increasing every year, box turtle treks across the black asphalt ribbons that crisscross the state are becoming ever more dangerous.  Not wanting to see a box turtle struck by a vehicle, whenever possible, drivers often stop and try to help turtle avoid being crushed by a car or truck.  Once a turtle is retrieved, a driver must decide where to place it in order to keep it out of harm’s way.

       I have asked two herpetologists what they would recommend in this situation.  Both agreed it is best to place the turtle on the side of the road it was headed.  While there is always a chance the turtle will turn around and walk back onto the highway, in most instances, this is not the case.

       The experts also stressed it is not a good idea to move a turtle  a mile or two down the road to a place that appears to be safer.  When released some distance from its home range, box turtles often find it difficult to find enough food to survive.  This can result in the turtles wandering about.

       If you decide to come to the aid of a box turtle trying to plod across a busy highway, please make sure you have a safe place to pull off the road.  In addition, do not walk out into the highway to retrieve a box turtle until you are absolutely certain you can do so well before a oncoming vehicle reaches you.

THERE IS A SNAKE ON MY HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER!

       How would like to look out your window and spot a snake wrapped around your hummingbird feeder?  This is just what recently happened to Upson County blogger Wanda Granitz.

       Needless to say, the rat snake dangling from her feeder was not visiting to partake in a sip of nectar.  It was attempting to grab a hummingbird or two. 

       Like most predators, snakes are very opportunistic.  Whenever they locate a concentration of prey, they will try to take advantage of the situation whether they find an abundance of frogs, insects, mice, or hummingbirds.

       There are many other critters that capture hummingbirds.  These predators include bullfrogs, hawks, shrikes, cats, praying mantises, spiders, and others.  However, aside from cats we rarely see hummingbirds capture one of these flying jewels.

       Fortunately, for hummingbirds and their devoted fans, the unnerving sight of a snake curled around a feeder is not common.  If you are like me, you have never witnessed anything like this in your yard.  In fact, in all the years I worked as a wildlife biologist, I received only a handful of reports of snakes trying to feed on hummingbirds visiting a feeder.

       However, if you do happen to spot a rat snake on your hummingbird feeder, one of the best things you can do to protect the hummers is capture the snake and move it some distance from your home.  Do not simply release it elsewhere in your yard.  If you do, chances are it will return to dine on these flying delicacies at a later time.

BACKYARD SECRET – LITTLE-KNOWN NEST PREDATORS

        Now that the nesting season is in full swing, the birds nesting in our backyards face formidable odds trying to fledge their young. As we all know, many nesting attempts end in failure due the fact predators eat both eggs and young.
       A list of the better-known nest predators includes crows, blue jays, raccoons, rat snakes, and opossums. However, there are a number of other animals that also eat eggs and/or nestlings. For example, would you believe deer mice, flying squirrels, and eastern chipmunks also raid bird nests?
      I find it amazing that cardinals, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and other backyard nesters are able to raise as many young as they do.

RAT SNAKE FOUND KINKING IN BACKYARD

        You never know what you are going to find in your backyard.  An example of this is a snake Beverly Castleberry recently encountered a couple of weeks ago in her yard. 

       This snake was black and measured roughly three feet long. Although it looked like a black rat snake, the snake’s skin appeared to be braided. (Zoom in on the photo to see the kinks). 

 Soon after making her discovery, Beverly sent me a picture of this unusual snake.  After examining the picture, I was certain I had never seen anything like it. 

       As it turned out, the snake was indeed a black rat snake.  What made it appear so different is it was exhibiting a behavior called kinking.  The black rat snake is one of several snakes that assume this bizarre posture.  When threatened, rat snakes sometimes don this folded or braided pose as a form of camouflage.  Supposedly, to a potential predator, a kinked snake looks like nothing more than a stick, and will pass on by without attacking the motionless reptile.

       Thanks Beverly for sharing your experience and picture with other backyard wildlife enthusiasts.

A POISONOUS SNAKE IN MY BACKYARD?

At this time of the year, we Georgians are spending a lot of time in our yards.  As such, homeowners and their families are more likely to encounter a snake now than at any other time of the year.  Whenever somebody does run across a snake, the first question that often comes to mind is, “Is this reptile poisonous?

       According to John Jensen, senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section and one of the state’s leading authorities on snakes, “Only every once in a while is it a venomous snake.”

       It seems that only six of the 46 species of Georgia’s of native snakes are poisonous.  The vast majority of the Peach State’s snakes are not a threat to humans.  However, far too often, harmless snakes are needlessly persecuted.  This is unfortunate because snakes are valued members of the wildlife communities that live in our yards.

       One way that you can alleviate your fears that you have encountered a poisonous snake is to learn how to identify them.  Since you only have to learn to identify six snakes, this is an easy task. 

       The Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section has prepared two publications that make identifying Georgia’s poisonous snakes a snap.  These full color pamphlets are entitled, “Venomous Snakes of Georgia” and “Is it a Water Moccasin?”.  Both publications can be downloaded by visiting the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section website at www.georgiawildlife.org/georgiasnakes.