7 Birds That Eat Snakes

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: October 30, 2021
Image Credit iStock.com/Shumba138
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In nature, most animals eat whatever they can to survive. While some animals adapted to eat nuts, seeds, or berries, others evolved to consume other animals. Of these hunters, a few developed a taste for and the skills necessary to hunt for snakes. Ophiophagy, or “snake eating” in Greek, refers to this behavior of routinely eating snakes. Numerous animals include snakes in their diet. Some, such as the mongoose, primarily eat snakes, while others eat snakes only occasionally in order to survive. For example, there exists a number of birds that eat snakes. These feathered hunters possess the sharp beaks, talons, and hunting instincts required to catch snakes in the wild. In this article, we’ll cover 7 different birds that eat snakes. Along with their eating habits, we’ll also discuss their physical attributes and where they live. With that said, let’s begin by talking about these snake-eating birds. 

#7: Red-Tailed Hawk

Animals That Molt - Red Tailed Hawk
In some areas, snakes make up 40% of a red-tailed hawk’s diet.

Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Also known as the chickenhawk, the red-tailed hawk is one of the most common hawks in the world. It ranges throughout North America, living as far north as Alaska and as far south as Panama. They thrive in various habitats including grasslands, forests, mountains, deserts, and urban areas. On average, they measure around 18 to 26 inches long and weigh from 1.5 to 3.5 pounds. While they vary in appearance, most adult red-tailed hawks sport light or dark brown plumage and red tail feathers. Red-tailed hawks eat a wide variety of animals, including rodents, small mammals, other birds, and reptiles. Due to geographic limitations, some of these birds that eat snakes consume them as a large part of their diet. In some areas, snakes make up over 40% of a red-tailed hawk’s diet. To date, scientists have identified nearly 40 snake species targeted by red-tailed hawks. 

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#6: Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron fishing in Florida Everglades.
The great blue heron will stand very still before grabbing a passing water snake with its long beak.

The great blue heron is a large wading bird common throughout North America, the Caribbean, and Galapagos Islands. It’s the largest native heron in North America, measuring 36 to 54 inches long and weighing 4 to 7.9 pounds. The great blue heron gets its name from its large size and blue-gray plumage. They live in various wetland habitats and spend most of their time wading near the water’s edge hunting for food. Great blue herons primarily eat fish, but will also eat birds, rodents, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. As one of the birds that eat snakes, a great blue heron will also occasionally hunt and eat snakes. In order to catch a water snake, a heron will stand very still and let the snake slither into range. Once the snake is in range, it will lash out with its long beak and swallow the snake whole. 

#5: Secretary Bird 

Dumbest Animals in the World: Secretary Bird
A secretary bird possesses the head of an eagle and the legs of a stork.

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The secretary bird is a large bird native to the grasslands and savannas of Africa. In many ways, it looks like a mixture between an eagle and a crane, with long legs and a raptorial body. Secretary birds measure between 44 and 59 inches long and weigh between 8.2 and 9.4 pounds. They feature blue-gray feathers on their crown, upperparts, and wings, and white feathers on their underparts. Unlike most predatory birds, the secretary bird hunts on foot, although it can fly. They eat a large variety of prey, including insects, rodents, crabs, small birds, and reptiles. Among birds that eat snakes, the secretary bird uses a unique kill method. Once it spots a snake, it will stomp on the snake with a force equal to five times its body weight. Due to habitat loss, the IUCN lists the secretary bird as an Endangered species.  

#4: Laughing Falcon

Birds that eat snakes: Laughing Falcon
The laughing falcon gets its name from its strange vocalizations, which make it sound like it is laughing.

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Also known as the snake hawk, the laughing falcon is a member of the falcon family Falconidae. Its Latin and common name both refer to its unusual vocalizations, which make it sound as if the bird is laughing. Laughing falcons range throughout Central and South America, and prefer to live in humid regions with some tree cover. A medium-sized species, laughing falcons measure between 18 to 22 inches long and weigh between 0.9 to 1.8 pounds. They feature a whitish head, neck, and underparts, dark brown wings, and a brown and white striped tail. Like some birds that eat snakes, the laughing falcon’s main food source is snakes. It will even hunt venomous snakes, such as the coral snake. To kill a snake, the laughing falcon will pounce on it from the air and bite the snake’s head with its sharp beak. 

#3: Great Horned Owl

Most Dangerous Birds
The great horned owl relies on its talons, curved sharp beak, and stealth to catch snakes and other prey.

Imran Ashraf/Shutterstock.com

The great horned owl, or tiger owl, is a large bird of prey and the most common true owl species in North or South America. It is also one of the largest owls, measuring 17 to 25 inches long and weighing 2.5 to 5.5 pounds. The great horned owl gets its name from its large size and distinctive tufts of its head that look like horns. It sports dark brown-gray plumage that allows it to blend in with its environment. Like the majority of owls, the great horned owl hunts at night. Almost no creature is safe from the great horned owl, and it eats a wider variety of prey than any other raptor. Although its diet mostly consists of rodents and small mammals, it is also one of the birds that eat snakes. Great horned owls use stealth and ambush tactics to sneak up on their prey. 

#2: Brown Snake Eagle

Birds that eat snakes: Brown Snake Eagle
The brown snake eagle eats a wide variety of snakes including adders, cobras,a and black mambas.

iStock.com/Shumba138

The brown snake eagle is a large raptor endemic to parts of Africa. A relatively solitary bird, a brown snake eagle’s territory can spread for hundreds of miles. They typically live in woods or grasslands with plenty of tree cover. On average, they measure 26 to 31 inches long and weigh 3.3 to 5.5 pounds. As its name implies, the brown snake eagle gets its name from its almost uniformly dark brown plumage. Its diet is similar to other snake eagles, which all classify as birds that eat snakes. In fact, it almost exclusively eats snakes in the wild and does not discriminate as to what type. Brown snake eagles will eat large, small, or venomous snakes, including adders, cobras, and black mambas. Once they catch a snake, they will swallow it whole, or tear it apart if the snake is too large. 

 #1: Chicken

animals that eat young: chicken
Chickens will attack and eat small snakes if given the opportunity.

iStock.com/Sonja Filitz

The chicken is one of the most common domesticated animals – and the most common domesticated bird – on the planet. These backyard birds live on every continent, and many cultures consider them a staple of their diet. People typically raise chickens for their meat and eggs. That said, some people also keep chickens as a natural form of pest control. Not only do they eat ticks, they are also one of the birds that eat snakes. A chicken will instinctively attack and kill a small snake. To kill a snake, a chicken will peck at it with its sharp beak and may even pick it up with its feet. If the snake is small enough, the chicken will proceed to swallow the snake whole. 

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