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.