The Heron and the Snake

As our day was almost complete at Viera Wetlands (see the previous post, “East Coast Adventure”), we had an opportunity to watch a life and death struggle.  Driving around the bend of a pond, we spotted a Great Blue Heron which appeared to be tugging at a root of some sort.  Wait, that’s not a root, it’s a snake!  I pulled to the side of the road, turned off the engine and for the next half-hour watched a fascinating encounter.  I believe the snake was a Florida Banded Water Snake and it was about 42-48 inches (106.68 – 121.92 cm) long.  These are non-venomous snakes and are fairly common in wet areas throughout the state.  The snake fought back but was no match for the heron’s powerful beak and jaws.  Once the heron actually began to swallow the snake, it only took 60 seconds for it to down all but a small section of tail.  The snake was obviously still alive as you could see the tail instinctively wrapping around the bird’s beak.  Most of the snake was gathered at the rear of the heron’s neck and it took another five minutes for it to finish swallowing the meal.  Once again, we were reminded that our natural world is all about survival.

 

The heron already had the snake by the tail when we first saw it.  The snake has its tail wrapped around the bird’s beak and you can see its head just above the ground.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Big Blue clamps down with his powerful jaws to try to subdue the serpent.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Now he has a better hold on the snake’s head and I thought he was ready to gulp it down.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

The snake wrapped itself around the beak again and its tail drilled down into the mass of reeds in order to grab hold of some roots.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

The heron simply pulled up the snake and roots all in one tangled ball.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Once he had a better grip on the snake, he was ready to position it in preparation for swallowing it head first.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

The snake struck at the heron repeatedly throughout this encounter and clamped down on its beak several times.  This snake is not poisonous and at most the heron may have received some scratches and bruises.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

The heron turned away from me as he began to swallow the snake.  It appears as though the snake “bunched up” at the back of the heron’s neck.  Whether this was due to the snake trying to crawl back out or if it’s by design, I don’t know.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

 

It took less than a minute for the heron to swallow all but a little bit of the snake’s tail.  Even at the last, the snake is wrapping its tail around the bird’s beak.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

As the snake’s tail swipes across the heron’s eye, you can see how the snake is still located at the back of the bird’s neck.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

It took almost five minutes to finish swallowing this snake.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

The Great Blue Heron is quite an efficient hunter.  I don’t know how long it will be before he needs to eat again after this meal.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

 

I didn’t post these pictures to be “gross”, but simply find our natural world fascinating, including the never-ending struggle for survival.

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Wildlife | Tags: , , , | 36 Comments

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36 thoughts on “The Heron and the Snake

  1. Wowsers! That was quite the encounter, Wally. And you documented it very well. It’s amazing what goes on “out there”, huh?

  2. Not gross at all – I was captivated!
    Super series of shots!

  3. This was phenomenal. National Geo stuff! I have seen photos of a snake after it has eaten something large, but never a bird eating (and having eaten) a big snake. The entire sequence is at least as amazing as I thought it would be.

    • Hi, Little Sister! It was fascinating to observe. It’s amazing the stuff a Great Blue Heron will try (usually successfully) to eat!

      Love you!

  4. Well documented Wally, pictures and commentary. I’ve seen herons take prey which appear to be oversized but the herons seem to know the score and rarely have to give up on a meal. You’re right about the grouse moor woners – it’s catching them at it which is the problem + they have friends in high places. This is England after all. Love your posts mate.

    • Ahh, the Golden Rule – “Him what has the gold, makes the rules.”
      As far as posts go, looks like we have a mutual admiration society! Wish I had become involved in ringing when I was much younger!

  5. I loved this series! Of course I once posted an alligator eating a turtle, so yeah, I don’t mind being reminded about the balance of nature. But besides that, your pics are just spectacular…thanks for sharing this amazing experience!

  6. WOW, what a stunning capture of this scene… Nature can be something. That snake put up quite a fight — but our herons are some fierce hunters. I wouldn’t want to be at the end of their bills.

  7. Hi there – thats a great set of pictures. None of the images are gross and nothing they show is cruel – its just the way the world works. I always smile when I see people who want to watch owls, but dont wont mice to get killed!

    Nice work by you and the heron!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

  8. Great stuff! I had a similar experience watching a Great Blue Heron capture and swallow a banded water snake at the click ponds by Viera Wetlands. It was quite a memorable experience.

    • It’s amazing to think this occurs all the time, we humans just get to see it once in awhile. It’s always surprising what a Great Blue Heron will attempt to swallow!

  9. Whoa! What amazing captures!! I’d love to see something of this magnitude out in the wild. You did great capturing this drama. Congrats!

    • Thank you, it was interesting to watch and we got lucky with the timing. I usually see this sort of stuff when the camera is nowhere around!

  10. Whoa, what great action photos Wally!

  11. Wally you captured the actions of both big Blue and the snake perfectly. Such is the way of nature in the wild.
    Less snakes is fine with me!

  12. Sid

    Great photo documentary of the whole thing! Remember when we found the snake swallowing the frog on our trip to Aransas?

  13. Florice

    Wow! What great photos, so clear and fascinating. I appreciate how you put them in a series, concluding with the heron winning. I wonder how long it took for the bird to digest a snake that big. Thanks for sharing with us.

  14. It’s always amazing to see this in the wild. The pictures are great, full of detail. I wonder why the snake doesn’t just keep biting the heron.

  15. It wriggled and wiggled and tiggled inside her.

  16. TexWisGirl

    i cannot imagine this process being a pleasant experience for either. 🙂

  17. Gwendolyn P Martin

    I found this very interesting.

  18. jimbey

    …. I watched a similar encounter between a great egret and a blue racer – right in my back yard. It took a while, and the snake sure put up a fight; but down it went. I wonder how long the snake/fish/frog/etc stays alive after being swallowed whole? Nature can be kinda cruel, eh?

    • I don’t know how long it takes for the prey to succumb. Nature isn’t really cruel, we just aren’t used to seeing this aspect of it.

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