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7 birds that eat snakes

birds that eat snakes, great blue heron swallowing snake
Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that the Latin word for snake eating is Ophiophagy? These Ophiophagy animals range from mammals to lizards and, yes, even birds. In this article, we will look at seven different species of birds that enjoy dining on a meal of snakes. We will look into how these birds catch and kill their snake prey.

Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans)

Laughing falcon in Guatemala.
Laughing falcon in Guatemala.

The laughing falcon almost exclusively hunts and eats snakes, their common prey being the venomous coral snake. It hunts from above, pouncing down on an unsuspecting snake from a tree branch. They will carry their prey back and perch on a tree branch while they consume the snake, small ones they will swallow whole, while bigger ones they rip apart. They are found from the south of Mexico to Central America and in every mainland South American country except Chile and Uruguay.

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

Greater roadrunner on the ground looking for a meal.
Greater roadrunner on the ground looking for a meal.

Roadrunners are fast birds able to run at 20 mph (32 kph), which makes them perfectly adapted to hunting rattlesnakes. With their speed, they can dodge the rattlesnake’s strike. The roadrunner only manages to avoid the strike sometimes, as sometimes they are the meal for the rattlesnake.

Their diet doesn’t just consist of rattlesnakes. They are opportunistic birds that forage on the ground for food. So they will eat insects, small lizards, tarantulas, scorpions, centipedes, snails, small birds, rodents and other small mammals, eggs, fruits and seeds.

Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

Secretary bird attacking a fake snake.
Secretary bird attacking a fake snake.

The secretary bird is a bird of prey native to the grasslands and savannas of sub-Saharan Africa. They walk around looking for prey like snakes, as well as insects, lizards and small mammals. They are skilled predators that stomp on their targets with their powerful legs to kill them. A single kick from a secretary bird can deliver a force of 195 Newtons in just 15 milliseconds. To put that into perspective, a human eye takes 150 milliseconds to blink.

Brown Snake Eagle (Circaetus cinereus)

Brown snake eagle sitting on a dead tree.
Brown snake eagle sitting in a dead tree.

With a name like the brown snake eagle, it’s pretty obvious that they eat snakes. They will eat venomous species like the cobra and viper but also lizards, small mammals, and birds. They are found in sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from Senegal and Gambia in the west to Ethiopia and Somalia in the east and down to South Africa. They inhabit various habitats, including woodland, savanna, and open plains, but are often associated with areas with abundant snake populations.

To catch a snake, the eagle will swoop down from a perch or soar overhead on the lookout for snakes before diving towards the snake on the ground. Once the eagle has grabbed the snake, it will use its powerful talons to hold it in place and deliver a fatal bite to its head or neck with its beak. The eagle may also use its wings to shield itself from potential strikes by the snake.

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

Laughing Kookaburra
Laughing Kookaburra

The laughing kookaburra is a member of the kingfisher family from Australia. They usually hunt small prey like mice, frogs, small fish, invertebrates, lizards, birds, and venomous snakes, much longer than their bodies. They hunt just like other kingfishers by perching branches or wire and patiently waiting for prey to pass by when they will swoop down and snatch them up. Kookaburras have also been given the nickname “cheeky” birds as they have a reputation for snatching food from barbecues and picnic tables.

Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)

Eastern Screech Owl
Eastern Screech Owl

Naturalists have observed the eastern screech owl to have a wide and varied diet. They hunt the usual owl prey like mice, voles, frogs and insects but have also been seen eating snakes, baby softshell turtles and over 100 different species of birds. They are even smart enough to take advantage of fishing holes made by people or cracks in ice at bodies of water during winter.

The owls are nocturnal hunters using their excellent hearing and eyesight to locate prey. They fly silently through the air thanks to their specialised feathers that muffle the sound of their wings. When they spot prey, they will swoop down and grab it with their talons, usually killing it with a quick bite to the back of the neck. They are skilled predators and are capable of catching prey that is much larger than themselves.

Herons (Family Ardeidae)

heron eating snake
USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Several species of herons are known to eat snakes, including the great blue heron, the green heron, and the black-crowned night heron. These herons are opportunistic predators and will eat a wide variety of prey depending on what is available. When hunting, herons will stand motionless near the water’s edge or in shallow water, waiting for prey to come within striking distance. They will then use their sharp beak and long neck to grab and swallow the animal whole.