Snakes are frequent predators of eggs and nestlings, but general patterns of snake predation at bird nests are not well known. We reviewed 84 video observations of snakes visiting nests of four songbird species in Texas and Missouri to identify patterns of predatory behavior. Eastern Ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta) were the most common species, and coachwhips, racers, kingsnakes, and a garter snake also were recorded. Snakes almost always removed all nest contents during a single visit but sometimes force-fledged nestlings that were old enough to escape. During many visits late in the nestling period, snakes pinned their prey in the nest while feeding, thereby preventing many of the young from escaping. Snakes spent an average of 13 min and 23 sec at each nest (1 min and 52 sec before striking), and the duration of nocturnal visits exceeded the duration of diurnal visits. Snakes sometimes returned to empty nests after they caused failure but only after nestlings were depredated. Visits by Texas Ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) were mostly nocturnal, whereas visits by Black Ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta), coachwhips, racers, and kingsnakes were diurnal. Snake predation increased as the nesting cycle progressed with the highest rate occurring in the last few days of the nestling period. Increased predation at the end of the nestling period suggests that avian activity (i.e., feeding visits, nest defense, and nestling movement) contributes to the foraging success of snakes at our sites.
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