First off, I will say that I love snakes and I love birds of prey. So when we moved to south Florida, I was super excited to see so much wildlife in our backyard – pileated woodpeckers, swallowtail kites, black racer snakes, screech and great-horned owls… it’s been paradise!
We have two black racers that live on our yard – one in the front, one in the back (and I’m sure the above photo is a give-away as to how this story ends) – and I really valued them being in our yard! They’re very friendly and are great ecosystem managers. We also recently have been getting broad-winged hawks all over Ft. Myers, and we recently saw this young one hanging out on our daybed in the backyard. I was ecstatic to see such a beautiful raptor just chillin’ in our yard.
Well, yesterday I saw him (or her) swoop down into the yard, grab the smaller black racer, and perch on the daybed. Now, I’m a biologist, I understand how trophic food webs work. But it still broke my heart to see our awesome little snake writhing in the hawks claws, being torn apart. I know, I know, I’m sentimentalizing a snake… but I truly saw him as our little rat-manager buddy.
I will also say, that in my entire life in Florida, I have never seen this happen, and literally in my own backyard! I was transfixed by the whole process, and alternated between almost throwing up, crying, and being amazed that this was happening in front of me (and seeing it through a 400mm lens made it even more astounding!).
In trying to better understand this battle, we looked them up online. The broad-winged hawks are on their migration to South America and will sometimes spend their winters in the area. This amazing website describes it as such:
“One of the greatest spectacles of migration is a swirling flock of Broad-winged Hawks on their way to South America. Also known as ‘kettles,’ flocks can contain thousands of circling birds that evoke a vast cauldron being stirred with an invisible spoon.” Pretty damn amazing – it’s now on my bucket list!
So I put these photos in this post, not to highlight how damn scary and gruesome nature can be, but to show a warrior’s death. Even though it was hard to watch, this battle of life and death was a reminder of what a healthy ecosystem we have in our backyard. Hawks eating snakes is just a part of life, and I guess that even though it’s uncomfortable to watch, it’s reassuring that life does in fact go on.