What Would a Screech-Owl Want With a Blind Snake?

Keeping live snakes in the nest can benefit owlets. Here's how.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


Screech-owls are cute—with stubby little bodies, poky little ear tufts, huge round eyes, and what looks like an expression of perpetual surprise on their face. Come nightfall, though, and they’re every bit as ferocious as they are cute, hunting down crickets, beetles and small rodents. But that’s not all . . .

Usually, the owls kill their prey before bringing it home. But if they’re lucky enough to capture the little, worm-like reptiles known as blind snakes, they deliver them to the chicks alive and wriggling. 

Some are gulped down immediately, but others have time to escape by burrowing beneath the wood chips, pellets, and other litter strewn across the floor of the nest. These survivors feed on the insect larvae they find there—larvae that would otherwise parasitize the owl nestlings. 

A study conducted by Baylor University scientists found that screech-owl chicks grew faster and healthier in nests kept vermin-free by these . . . domesticated . . . blind snakes. Now that’s what I call service. 

Check out the Baylor study here



Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Eastern Screech-Owl [107366] by Wilbur L. Hershberger. Eastern Screech-Owl [166554] by Robert C. Faucett. Eastern Screech-Owl [4457] by Lewis F. Piersall.

BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Dominic Black

Written by Rick Wright

© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org     November 2017     Narrator: Michael Stein