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.
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.