I am both a bird and a snake lover and as such find myself a bit conflicted about the eating habits of some snakes. Certainly I believe sincerely that Nature should take its course and we humans should interfere as little as possible. However when we observe a predation event in person this can provide a “moral” problem- do we help the bird that is being preyed upon or let events transpire as Nature intended? For many years I have felt that I could not be certain about the degree to which snakes actually prey on birds. But as I have put up many nest boxes I have observed circumstantial evidence of snake predation. The fact that the so-called “rat snakes”, black and yellow rat snakes and corn snakes, are excellent climbers contributes to their potential for preying on birds and nests. However the common climbers in Florida, the corn and yellow rat snakes avidly eat mice and rats in captivity and seem to at least not focus on birds if they do eat them. However at our farm in Virginia I have observed numerous black rat snakes in places where they could prey on birds (including in nest boxes) and in captivity have found them completely un- interested in rodents. In fact today I offered a recently dead mockingbird nestling (perhaps killed by a fox squirrel but I cannot be sure) to a large black rat snake and it immediately ate the bird (see photo)! This shocked me and provides good proof that these snakes regularly eat birds. I have previously had a black rat snake disgorge several starling nestlings after capture.
So what does one do with this information? Should we remove all such avian predators and translocate them elsewhere if we are trying to improve bird habitat in our yards? I leave this for the conscience of each of you to decide. Surely the wisest course would be to interfere the least with Mother Nature. I ask only that you not kill any snakes- they are only doing what nature designed them for and there is no good or evil here, only predator and prey.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA