Friday, August 09, 2013

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

After Reptile Ramble at the Park this morning, I led a lizard walk. It was very hot and there weren’t too many lizards out. On the way to the Riparian Area, we did see something fascinating and horrifying: a large gopher snake in a tree, swallowing a nestling mourning dove. At first, all I saw was the mother dove, below the tree, calling and acting upset. Then I looked up to see a perfect example of a snake opening its mouth wide enough to receive prey bigger than its head. (See this post for a video of a nightsnake eating a large lizard.)
Gopher snake digesting baby dove 8-9-2013 11-00-49 AM 2448x2523   The snake has just swallowed the second baby; the first one can be seen here as a bulge in its body.

Once it had swallowed the baby dove, the snake returned to the nest, which was now empty, then began to slither out of the tree. I believe that it probably ate both of the babies in the nest (there are usually two in a dove nest). The poor mother dove continued to stand below the tree, now unmoving, and I’m sure doing the dove equivalent of weeping for her lost children.
Mother Mourning Dove 8-9-2013 11-10-34 AM 2042x2206
I am emotionally torn here. Anyone reading these posts knows how much I love snakes, and also how much I love birds. My heart breaks for the poor mother dove, who has poured all of her energy into raising these two little replicas of herself, and now they are both gone—in an instant—with nothing she can do.

When I left the area about fifteen minutes later, she was still standing there, looking as if she wouldn’t mind if the snake came back and ate her.

Here is a brief video of the gopher snake leaving the tree. Note the empty dove nest above it.

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  1. Well, that certainly puts the "mourn" in mourning dove. I would think gopher snakes would stick to burrowing prey.

    1. A lot of snakes, including kingsnakes, are good climbers and will go after nestlings in trees and even in cactus!