Do snakes eat birds?

Salt Lake City snake

There is one species of snake called the Cantil snake, also known as the Mexican or Black Moccasin, the Cantil Viper, Mexican Cantil, or Mexican Ground Pit Viper, that actually preys on birds in a very specific way. The name “Cantil” is derived from an old Mayan language, the word “kantill” meaning lips of yellow. The snake doesn’t literally have lips of yellow, but rather a yellow tip. This yellow will darken to a green color, fading in brightness, and acts as a warning to potential predators, as well as a way of luring in unsuspecting prey. The tail can look a little bit like a worm or caterpillar, and birds are lured in by this. In no time at all, quicker than it takes to blink, the snake will bite and inject its potent venom into the bird, waiting for it to become docile or dead and then consuming it whole.

You won’t find the Cantil snake in North America, but you might if you travel to certain places in Mexico, Belize, and similar places. Even then, sightings are rare. The snake is actually listed as a threatened species.

The Cantil snake isn’t the only bird-eating snake. In fact, all snakes are meat-eaters, so in theory, they might all eat birds. It’s the size of the bird that will change. Larger snakes will opt for a larger bird to prey on, whereas smaller snakes may prey on young birds, bird eggs in nests, or smaller species of birds. It is unusual to find a small snake preying on a large bird species. Even if they were able to subdue the larger animal with a powerful venom injection, the snake's jaw will only extend so far. A very large meal would prove impossible for the snake to swallow whole.

Snakes that do not inject venom — non-venomous species — are constrictors. These will still have teeth, but these teeth are for grabbing hold of and keeping hold of prey, not injecting or chewing it. Once they have prey in their bites, the rest of their body will wrap around it, squeezing with powerful muscles. When the animal has died or is rendered paralyzed, the snake is then free to consume it at will.

If you have birds in your backyard — chickens, for example — a large enough snake could come by and snap them up, a story that has been told a few times in warm-climate places, such as Florida. The Everglades are home to a large number or full-bodied snakes, many of which are non-native, and it would be wise to make sure you're protecting your own animals in areas where snakes are rife. Go back to the home page: Snakes of Salt Lake City