This Guy Eats Rattlesnakes… And Other Facts about Who Eats Whom or What

Peggy and I hiked up the mountain behind our house in search of cougars and bears, and came upon this colorful California kingsnake. It cooperated with a striking pose, so to speak. We had been following along behind it as it slithered along for about 20 feet. I think the pose was meant to say, “Go away!” When that didn’t work, it hid his head.

I’ve eaten rattlesnake but it has never been a part of my regular diet. Nor do I eat rattlesnakes whole or squeeze them to death. The California kingsnake regards this as normal behavior. They are said to have the strongest constriction power of any snake of similar size and can eat another snake almost as big as they are. (You wouldn’t want to meet one the size of a boa.) I assume they also use this ability on the other prey they like to eat including rodents, birds, lizards, and frogs. One valuable attribute that they have in relation to eating rattlesnakes is that they are more or less immune to the venom. A final tidbit I picked up in my research: The guys win their lady’s love by vibrating rapidly. I wonder if this leads to a shaky relationship.

The kingsnake stretched out to about 4 feet. They can grow up to six. Imagine this fellow swallowing a 2-3 foot rattlesnake! We followed along at a respectful distance.

We weren’t looking for the snake. Peggy and I had hiked up the mountain to check out some possible cougar scat (poop) and see if anyone was home at the bear cave. We were also looking for other signs of wildlife and anything else that caught our fancy— like the weird trees and pretty flowers I have already shared. I am sure that you are thinking now, “Oh joy, Curt is going the share poop with us.” And you are right.

But first the bear cave. It isn’t that we have ever found a bear in it. But it looks like a bear should live there and we found bear tracks in the snow heading toward the cave this past winter. As you may recall, Peggy refused to walk over with me to check it out. This time we found fresh bear scat on a trail up the mountain nearby and Peggy immediate burst into song, The bear went over the mountain. I told her it was wishful thinking, that maybe the bear had come down the mountain. None-the-less, we checked out the cave and no one was home. Peggy insisted that I throw rocks inside just to make sure. I’ve never quite understood the logic of this. If I were a bear and got awakened from a deep sleep by a rock, I’d be grumpy. I’d come roaring out of the cave wanting to bite someone.

The ‘bear’ cave looking dark and ominous. It’s actually an old gold mine. Our neighbor, Mooey, who is a part time gold miner, cut a trail up to the cave. “I always throw rocks into it.” he told us.”

And now for the scat. Our fascination with it may have you scratching your head why— especially if you have a dog or a baby. The fact is, if you are interested in what animals are visiting your neighborhood or live in the wild areas you visit, scat is an important clue, and sometimes the only clue. Many animals are nocturnal and others have figured out that the less people know about their presence, the better off they are. Cougars fit into the latter category.

We were hiking up the hill when we came on this scat. Just looking at it we learned two things. One, it was a carnivore. Two, it was likely left by different animals at different times. The color suggests the different times. The scat on top is older. It also appears that the scat on the bottom was left by a larger animal.
Check out the fur? This was definitely a meat-eater. I think the fur is from a deer.
The lower scat was about 7 inches in length. The upper closer to 4. (And doesn’t everyone carry a tape in his pocket to measure scat?)

So what are we looking at. Given who lives in our area, I would say either a cougar, a coyote or a bob cat. The size, especially of the lower scat, suggests cougar. If it’s deer fur, as it appears to be, it is one more clue suggesting a cougar. On Wednesday we were hiking up another trail near our house, the Mule Mountain Trail, and definitely came across cougar scat.

This scat was larger and chunkier— definitely cougar. Once more, the fur looks like deer.
But enough on poop. This shelf fungus seems to have an opinion on the subject.
Turkey was also the menu out in the woods. The feathers suggest a real feast. There were enough for at least two turkeys. Once again, the cougar, the bob cat, or the coyote was at work. Or maybe two of them.
These are turkey tail feathers…
And this feather make me think of my down sleeping bag!
Let’s hear it for the herbivores. Someone stripped this poor little Douglas fir, leaving a top and a bottom and nothing in between.
Ouch. Nothing like being flayed. I’d say a porcupine is the likely culprit. A buck might do this to remove velvet from his antlers, but it is still too early. Last year one of them did in our hammock. It is also possible that a deer did this for lunch, yanking off the tender young needles of the tree with the bark following— all down the hatch!
“You blame us for everything!” I had just written the caption for the photo above when Floppy appeared and stared accusingly at me through the window. It’s not true. I also blame the ground squirrels around here. As you will discover in my next post.
Here’s an interesting bit of nature. The insect that made this hole is an antlion, a ferocious little bug that digs the holes to trap ants. It sits in the bottom and waits for someone to fall in and then kicks up dirt on a potential victim to speed up the process. It’s a slippery slope, almost impossible to escape from. I am reminded of the monster in Star Wars that Jabba the Hut hoped would eat Luke, Hans and Chewy.
Any idea who did this? You are looking at an acorn tree. The birds that drilled these holes are acorn woodpeckers. There can be thousands of such hole in a single tree filled with acorns. Usually they all belong to the same commune of woodpeckers that live together as a family, interbreed, raise the kids jointly and maintain the tree. My commune friends from the 60s and 70s would consider them soulmates.
Acorn woodpeckers also like sunflowers! Check out the clown face on this one.
The red cap is definitive of the acorn woodpecker. This is a female. The red goes down to the white forehead on the male.
Steller jays also love sunflower seeds, but it’s a reach…
They flap their lower wing to maintain balance. They’d be ruler of the bird feeder if it wasn’t for the acorn woodpeckers. No one wants to get in a fight with someone who can peck holes in wood!
Over ten species of birds are regular visitors to the birdfeeder and provide endless entertainment. These are mainly goldfinches waiting for their turn.
I’ll close today with a final photo of the kingsnake. I looked down and its head was missing! At first I thought he was in the process of slithering off. But he remained still. Later, I read that kingsnakes sometimes hide their heads when in danger. It hardly seems like appropriate behavior for somebody who eats rattlesnakes!

NEXT POST: Other ways we’ve been amusing ourselves in the Age of Coronavirus

28 thoughts on “This Guy Eats Rattlesnakes… And Other Facts about Who Eats Whom or What

  1. I had no idea any species of woodpecker would feed from a bird feeder.
    Your comments on scat caused me to recall my brief stint in the army; part of the training for army trackers was to look for and examine human scat. It told them about the health of the enemy they were following.

    • Laughing, I’ll stick to wild animals in the scat department. Seems you may have had an interesting assignment in the military. But my thought is, no thanks.
      Most of our backyard birds seem to like sunflower seeds. Doves and robins don’t seem to partake but the doves may ground-feed off the seeds that fall. At least they hang around the area and coo a lot. The jays are absolute pigs if I let them be. I used to have a flat bird feeder that they could land on. They would stuff 20 or so not their craw before flying off!

    • I’m pretty sure that’s the case, Greg. Just be sure to make noise when traveling through bear or rattlesnake country. Neither rattlesnakes nor bears like to be surprised. It’s strike/bite first and ask questions afterwards. 🙂

  2. You’re a great storyteller Curt, especially when the nature, and your “backyard” offers you so many opportunities. I’ve never eaten snake meat, I remember I’ve had eel meat when I was a kid, I remember it was delicious.

    • I have to confess, Christie, the rattlesnake meat does taste a little like chicken. 🙂 But more to the point, it’s tough and bouncy, kind of like biting down on a rubber band. Whether that was from all of the muscles or how we prepared it, I don’t know. But I would recommend a pressure cooker or insta-pot! Frying it out on the trail leaves a lot to be desired. And thanks on the story-teller bit. It’s something I enjoy. –Curt

  3. The tree fungus was actually beautiful, as were the turkey tail feathers; the scat description was interesting – BUT you can keep the king snake to yourself!!

    • Laughing. I never worry much Peggy. I remember taking my dad camping for his 80th birthday. I was working in the tent and I came out and he had disappeared. I looked around and found him on top of a nearby hill. When he came down I said, “Pop, you do know there was a grizzly working that hill. He thought about it for a minute, smiled, and said, “Not a bad way to go.”

  4. Not sure I would ever buy a rattle snake feeder. I have put out a plate of bird seeds in the hope of attracting them but they are slow in coming. Unlike my previous place where the birds would look through the windows begging to be fed or given a drink.

    • I know all about the birds looking in our windows demanding to be fed, Gerard. And the deer. 🙂 Your bird feeder may become more used in time. I’d love to have a king snake around but no-thanks on the rattlesnakes!

    • After I moved into my new place, I installed some feeders, Gerard. It did take them a while to show up, but now I have plenty of birds around, and quite a variety. The babies are showing up now, and that’s even more fun.

  5. Great post Curt, I enjoyed it.
    In 1996 I went to Phoenix, Arizona to check out some refuse trucks (that’s another story) we went to a place called Rustler’s Roost and had rattlesnake off the starter menu. It tasted suspiciously like chicken. I have always suspected that it was chicken.

  6. Now this IS an interesting collection of photos. 1) I almost couldn’t get past the snake because well, I hate snakes. 2) I would NOT throw a rock into a hole for fear of what would come after me. And 3) nice bird shots! All interesting.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Rusha. Peggy and I love wandering around and learning about nature. There is always something new. Or maybe I should say, “found it interesting.” 🙂 –Curt

  7. In some ways, my life trajectory could be described as a change from “Scat, cat!” to “Cat scat.” Learning to read the landscape is pretty darned important if you’re going to wander around in it — even casually. It’s also important to remember that not every danger can be seen; I learned a few days ago that chigger season’s started, and I wasn’t prepared. Oh, woe.

    • Oh, sorry about the chiggers, Linda. I can only think of one encounter I’ve had with the little buggers (in Texas, of course), and once was enough. Knock on wood.
      On another note, my research on the history of our yellow rose suggested that it does double duty as the Yellow Rose of Texas. I am going to follow up on that. –Curt

    • It’s a jungle out there. 🙂 Still, nature at its rawest would have a hard time competing with man when it comes to ‘doing unto others,’ 🙂 And beauty, always. –Curt

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