What Do Timber Rattlesnakes Eat?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: April 23, 2022
© Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com
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Rattlesnakes are some of the most widespread snakes that can be found across North America. They are dangerous and formidable hunters, but do they all eat the same thing? Today, we will be exploring the diet of the timber rattlesnake to learn all we can about the foods it can eat. There are many names for the timber rattlesnake, including the canebrake rattlesnake and banded rattlesnake. Whatever you call them, they can really pack a punch! Let’s discover: What Do Timber Rattlesnakes Eat?

What do Timber Rattlesnakes Eat?

timber rattlesnake1
The timber rattlesnake is a carnivore that mostly eats small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

©Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com

Timber rattlesnakes eat rodents, birds, lizards, and amphibians. As carnivores, they mostly eat small mammals and reptiles.

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Like many snakes, timber rattlesnakes are superb hunters. They are members of the rattlesnake family, meaning they are pit vipers. Pit vipers in North America include copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes, all of which are venomous. The venomous nature of the rattlesnake is what gives them an edge when it comes to self-defense, as well as hunting. Let’s take a look at the various foods a timber rattlesnake eats.

Small mammals

The primary food source for timber rattlesnakes is small mammals. The common mammals that timber rattlesnakes eat are mice, rats, shrews, voles, chipmunks, and squirrels. In fact, there is a lot of data recorded on exactly how much timber rattlesnakes rely on small mammals as their food source. Here is the breakdown:

  • 33.3% of prey came from the Peromyscus genus. This primarily refers to deer mice.
  • 10.9% of prey came from the Microtus genus. All species of vole in the New and Old World are under this umbrella.
  • 10.6% of prey came from the Tamias genus. The most common prey species in this genus is the chipmunk.
  • 10.4% of prey came from the Sylvilagus genus and refers mostly to rabbits.
  • 5.3% of prey came from the Sigmodon genus and refers to cotton rats.
  • 4.2% of prey came from the Sciurus genus and refers to squirrels.

Even within this breakdown, there is sure to be some variance. Like any animal, the younger snakes prefer smaller prey sources, while the adults tend towards larger ones (like the rabbit).

Birds

Although mammals are the main food source for timber rattlesnakes, they have no issue eating birds. In fact, they are generally considered to be the secondary prey source for timber rattlesnakes. The most common species of birds killed by timbers are ground-dwelling birds like grouse and bobwhites. Even still, these variable hunters are known to take songbirds and really anything else that comes across their path.

Reptiles and amphibians

Although reptiles and amphibians are usually in third place when it comes to the percentage of prey taken by timber rattlesnakes, they are still considered an important food source. The most common snake they will consume is the garter snake. They are cannibalistic and are known to consume other rattlesnakes without much hesitation. Additionally, they prey on lizards, frogs, and other small animals that they happen to encounter.

A Complete List of Foods Timber Rattlesnakes Eat

What Do Timber Rattlesnakes Eat?
Timber rattlesnakes have diverse diets, but they mostly eat small mammals.

©Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com

Here is a complete list of the most common foods a timber rattlesnake will eat:

  • deer mice
  • mice
  • rats
  • voles
  • shrews
  • chipmunks
  • squirrels
  • rabbits
  • snakes
  • birds
  • lizards
  • frogs

Although their potential prey is quite diverse, most timber rattlesnakes have a diet that is mostly made up of small mammals.

How Does a Timber Rattlesnake hunt?

What Do Timber Rattlesnakes Eat?
The timber rattlesnake is an ambush predator.

©Frode Jacobsen/Shutterstock.com

Timber rattlesnakes are ambush predators that use their potent venom to disable prey before they eat it.

Like many snakes, the timber rattlesnakes are incredibly patient hunters. They are ground-dwelling snakes and will sit coiled up on the ground, waiting for a small mouse or chipmunk to wander a bit too close. Once the prey is within striking distance, the timber rattlesnake will lash out and quickly inject the animal with its potent venom. An unusual strategy that timber rattlesnakes have learned to use when hunting is to perch themselves on fallen logs, allowing them to strike down when their prey wanders past.

One of the key factors that allow these snakes to find prey is their heat-sensing pits. As a pit viper, timber rattlesnakes can track prey with their sensitive heat-sensing organs. Additionally, they have a highly adept sense of smell that allows them to follow the chemical trail left by prey.

When it comes to venom, the timber rattlesnakes are one of the most dangerous in the entire United States. They are large snakes with a high venom yield, but thankfully, they don’t often strike. Additionally, they try and warn threats with their rattle before they strike. When they inject venom into prey, however, the results are catastrophic. Their venom is neurotoxic and hemotoxic, meaning it affects animals in both their nerve tissue and their blood (primarily their ability to clot and congeal).

What Competes with a Timber Rattlesnake for Food?

What Do Timber Rattlesnakes Eat?
The primary competition for rattlesnakes is likely birds of prey and other species of snake.

©Tim Malek/Shutterstock.com

Although rattlesnakes are some of the top predators in their ecological niche, they still compete with other animals for food. Among the top competitors are birds of prey and other snake species. Birds of prey don’t just primarily feed on small mammals; they often hunt and kill snakes, even venomous ones. Hawks, owls, and falcons are all known to kill and eat snakes, including rattlesnakes.

Other snakes also compete with the timber rattlesnake. The kingsnake, for example, is known to eat small mammals and is resistant to the venom of a rattlesnake. In fact, the kingsnake gets its name from its habit of killing and eating venomous snakes as a primary food source.

Additionally, any animal that hunts small mammals as prey could be considered a competitor to the timber rattlesnakes. Examples include raccoons, foxes, cats, and more.

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The Featured Image

Rattlesnakes While HIking - Timber Rattlesnake
© Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

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