30.8.11

PANAMA - ANTSHRIKE KILLS SNAKE!


When we left the Canopy Tower, we drove slowly down the entrance road along Semaphore Hill. We made a couple of stops where we heard small parties of birds foraging nearby. About two thirds of the way down the hill we made our last stop at a small party of antbirds feeding in the canopy near the road. There were at least three WESTERN SLATY ANTSHRIKES and a pair of FASCIATED ANTSHRIKES, plus several DOT-WINGED ANTWRENS and - we got out first decent look at GREEN SHRIKE-VIREO!

As we watched this small group of birds, we were soon surprised as they moved rapidly towards the ground and began to scold and display. The WESTERN SLATY ANTSHRIKES even showed large white patches of puffed up feathers on their backs as they scolded just a few feet from the road and a few feet above the ground. I alerted Kathi to the possibility that they had spotted a snake and only a few seconds later she said "There IS a snake and the antshrike is attacking it!!!". We both edged forward as close as possible and there on the ground was a small yellow/orange viper, about two feet in length and a male FASCIATED ANTSHRIKE standing a few inches away - POISED TO STRIKE IT!!!



As we watched, the ANTSHRIKE lunged forward with his massive bill and grabbed the snake by the head.





He would shake the snake violently back and forth and then drop it back on the ground.






Initially, the snake would recoil and move after these attacks. But the antshrike was relentless and kept on grabbing and shaking the snake violently by the head. The video below gives an idea of this process. I have a longer clip but its too big to upload.


video


The antshrike continued this process for about five minutes, and then grabbed the snake by the tail and dropped it, as if to check to see if it was still alive. It seemed non-responsive to me.



At this point, greedy 'photographer' Tom took over, when 'scientist' Tom should have prevailed. I decided to take a stick and drop it onto a small plant that had been blocking my view of the event. This scared the antshrike off. I thought it might return, but after about five more minutes there was no sign of activity so we decided to leave. The snake was motionless. The big question to me was did the antshrike just kill the snake, or did it intend to eat it and I scared it off? If anyone has any insight into this, it would be greatly appreciated. Also if anyone has any thoughts on the species of viper that would be helpful.

In any event, this was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed in the wild, and both Kathi and I were on a high for several days after this!



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