Nest raider

A somewhat disgruntled young black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus)

For the past five or six years, a pair of eastern phoebes have built their nest on a small ledge under the roof of our front porch.  Eight feet off the ground and close to humans, this would seem an excellent place to avoid predators.  Most years, they successfully raise a brood of chicks who, by the time they are ready to fly away, look far too large for the little moss-lined nest.

phoebe nestlings1
A successful brood in 2016
phoebe nestlings2
“Hey! Move over!”

This year, they were not so lucky.  Opening the blind on our glass front door one morning last week, my wife was startled to see that a young black rat snake had located the nest.  It had wedged itself into the small crevice between a support post and gutter downspout and was slowly inching towards the chicks while the parent birds fluttered frantically from perch to perch.  Rat snakes, despite their name, do not specialize in preying on rodents.  They are climbers par excellence and enthusiastically raid nests for eggs and chicks.


I removed the intrepid hunter and carried it to an old wood pile at the back of our house.  I thought that there would be plenty of rodents or lizards there to distract the snake.  It seems that the snake was determined, though.  The next morning, the nest was empty.  The parent birds hung around the garden for a few hours and then disappeared.  I wonder if they will be back next year.

7 thoughts on “Nest raider

  1. It’s a sad day to lose a nest of baby birds, but I love the black snakes that share my garden. They keep the voles and chipmunks under control and the copperheads at bay. I’ve even seen one eat a full size squirrel!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a tough one. I just discovered a Texas rat snake in the back of my garden. The Blue Jays have been cawing for a while and I couldn’t figure out why–now I know. Do phoebes produce a second brood if the first is lost?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s such a shame, to lose those chicks like that, but what an amazing photo of the snake climbing up to get them. The snakes we have here are very poisonous, so it would fill me with dread to see one so close to my house. Fortunately that hasn’t happened. Yet.

    Liked by 1 person

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