Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Woodpecker Nest Raided by Snake

On April 18th, a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers began to set up housekeeping in a tall tree trunk in our back yard.  The tree has obviously been well used by woodpeckers for a while- it has multiple holes.  This woodpecker couple chose the hole closest to the top of the trunk.  After a little more excavation and tidying up, they settled in.  

For weeks I watched the woodies as they routinely switched places at the nest, each taking a turn guarding the temporary home of their offspring.  I feel certain that within the past 10 to 12 days, they were caring for nestlings.  Lately I had been keeping an eye on the top of the tree trunk and surrounding branches of other trees, looking for any signs that the little ones had fledged.

On the morning of May 15th, everything looked normal with the woodies- the pair continued their routine of taking turns at the nest.  Nothing out of the ordinary, until...

I heard them calling loudly and repeatedly.  When I went outside to check on them, I saw Mama Woodie making circles and darting to the hole in the tree.  I also saw a couple small birds circling the tree as well.  There was a ruckus going on but I couldn't see anything out of the norm.   I retrieved my camera and zoomed in.  I saw something odd sticking out from the hole, but it took me a couple minutes to actually identify it.  My jaw dropped and I questioned what I saw- is that a snake?!!!  

Sure enough it was.  I could see it more clearly when I enlarged the photos on my camera.  A darn snake had invaded the woodies nest!  Mama Woodie was absolutely frantic and trying her best to distract the invader.  Unfortunately, as with most birds, she was no match for the snake.  

She was helpless.  I was helpless.  I could do nothing but watch.  The nest was too high, too far from my reach.  After fighting for a few minutes she retreated to the nearby branches.  I felt so sad for her.

When the snake (I think it was a rat snake, but not certain) disappeared into the tree trunk, Mama Woodie made her way back to the nest.  She listened.  She looked.  She lingered at the nest entrance, quiet and still.  Then she left.  

The woodpecker pair have remained in my area- I hear them calling in the back yard every now and then.  They've also been spotted at the nest hole a couple times.  Eventually they'll find another spot to nest.  I hope they'll have better luck the next time.

Although it was difficult to watch the drama unfold, I've had to learn to accept that it is all a part of nature's plan. Within most all living organisms is the instinct to survive, so I can't fault the snake for it doing what is necessary for its survival.  However, I can try to protect the bird families in my nest boxes by making it more difficult for a snake or any other predators to get to them.  I would appreciate any suggestions...thanks!


  1. Oh no, poor woodies! I hope they try again. I am not sure what you can use to protect your birdhouses from a snake.

  2. Susan, what an incredible occurrence to see (and tell)! Although Nature's way, it is so difficult to see and read. Great work!!!..:)JP

  3. Poor woodies! I hope they're more successful on their next try.

  4. As you say, it is Nature's way. I had my own trauma just the other day. A dove flew into our dining room window. It is a frequent occurrence. We have decals on the glass to discourage it. Most make the recognition in time and glance off. I held this particular dove and stroked her breast until she gave her last breath. Ah. I couldn't leave her for the cats. I watch the other doves in the yard now wondering which might have been her mate.

  5. it is sad to watch. a rat snake recently took a bluebird house here.

  6. How sad for the woodpeckers! Amazing that you got to see this tragedy unfold however. Fantastic photos but really sad that it had to happen. I hope they will nest again in your yard next year and the babies will fledge.