Thursday, 14 June 2012

Robin kills Gartersnake

I was out doing some reptile surveys at Long Point and watched this American Robin fly out of the some bushes and land on the road with a rather large (for a robin) Eastern Gartersnake in its mouth. It dropped it onto the road at which point I could see the snake was very much alive. It coiled into a defencive position and stuck out at the robin several times.  Unfazed, the robin began to thrash the snake against the road and nip at the snake with its beak. It wasn't long until the snake was clearly dead but the robin continued to attack it anyways. Then a large truck and trailer drove by scaring the robin away from the road. The driver even rolled down his window and told me that "He saved that snake's life!". Although the snake was already dead, I appreciated the fact that he saw the snake on the road and purposely went around it. At this point I suspected the Robin would not have come back, but sure enough he did! After much more snake bashing he picked up the snake and carried it off into some more bushes, never to be seen again. The fact the robin came back I found very curious.

Snakes of many species will take birds eggs and nestlings as meals so at first I just assumed this robin was protecting its nest, carrying away the gartersnake to protect his progeny. But the longer this ordeal carried on, and the more I watched the birds behaviour, I was beginning to wonder if the robin was going to try and eat it! A small snake would be about the size of a worm, so I could easily see that happening, but this snake was presumably way to big to swallow whole. The way it handled the snake at times made me wonder if he was trying to break off some more bite sized pieces. It's too bad I couldn't see what happened in the end, but there's at least one less gartersnake at Long Point.

Here are a few shots I also got that day. A Black Tern on a nest, a Sandhill Crane in the marsh, and two Dickcissels in weedy fields. One was at Long Point and the other was at Port Burwell. Dickcissels are rare breeders that have had a mini-invasion this year presumably due to dry conditions in the US Midwest. For some perspective this is my first summer sighting for Ontario, having previously only seen one at a feeder in winter many, many years ago. They are a bit more "regular" in the extreme southwest of the province, I've just never gone to see one before.

Black Tern and Sandhill Crane

 Long Point bird on the left, Port Burwell Dickcissel on the right.

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