Wildbuzz: A serpent’s sacred hunger - Hindustan Times
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Wildbuzz: A serpent’s sacred hunger

ByVikram Jit Singh
Apr 21, 2024 07:50 AM IST

The Singhs have tolerated the snake’s presence in their sprawling garden resplendent with mature trees planted by Singh’s grandfather 50 years ago. They have neither tried to kill the snake nor have it ‘rescued and removed’. They believe their garden is the snake’s home, too, and enjoys a rightful place in its biodiversity.

*Having weathered many rough seasons and inspired some remarkable tales and photographs, the non-venomous Rat snake dwelling at Harjinder Singh’s ancestral house in Gurdaspur city is certainly a blessed one.

Helpless, parakeet parents with flailing wings unable to repel the snake at their nest hole, April 2024. (PHOTO: HARJINDER SINGH)
Helpless, parakeet parents with flailing wings unable to repel the snake at their nest hole, April 2024. (PHOTO: HARJINDER SINGH)

The Singhs have tolerated the snake’s presence in their sprawling garden resplendent with mature trees planted by Singh’s grandfather 50 years ago. They have neither tried to kill the snake nor have it ‘rescued and removed’. They believe their garden is the snake’s home, too, and enjoys a rightful place in its biodiversity.

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The serpent has benefited from an incredible streak of hunting luck. Virtually every April, the serpent, adept at scaling the tallest of trees, feasts on the chicks/fledglings of Rose-ringed parakeets. The parakeet parents repeat the mistake of making their nest in the same hole of the Drek tree in Singh’s garden, which is accessible to the snake.

Singh, whose family owned the first petrol pump of Gurdaspur city and have since diversified into manufacturing, brings a sharp, keen eye to his camera. The snake’s April hunts have been captured by Singh along with the helpless frenzy of the parakeet parents watching their progeny pulled out from the nest hole and disappear inch by inch down the serpent’s gullet. Singh observes the hunt carefully without disturbing the serpent or trying to foolishly “save” the chicks.

Rat snake preying on parakeet fledglings at the same nest hole in a Drek tree (Gurdaspur) during the months of April 2022 and 2024. (PHOTOS: HARJINDER SINGH)
Rat snake preying on parakeet fledglings at the same nest hole in a Drek tree (Gurdaspur) during the months of April 2022 and 2024. (PHOTOS: HARJINDER SINGH)

“When I put up photos of the snake’s hunt of parakeet fledglings, some friends asked me as to why I did not save the helpless babies? I told them the snake is keeping nature’s balance. The snake also needs to eat as it is a carnivore. How can I take food out of the mouth of one of nature’s beings?” Singh told this writer.

Singh noted the variations in species that made up the hysterical galleries heckling and mobbing the snake’s hunts of parakeet progeny in April 2022 and April 2024. Other bird species quickly realise the danger the snake can pose to their own offspring. They join the avian and squirrel clamour to heckle the snake but it is not always successful in dissuading the predator. “In the earlier hunt, the birds that collected and shrieked at the snake in support of the parents included Purple sunbirds, Spotted owlet, Brown-headed barbet, House crows and Common mynas. However, this April, there were only crows and mynas that came in solidarity with the parakeet parents,” he said.

The barbet also nests regularly in a different nest hole on the very same Drek tree. But Singh has not seen the snake attempt to prey on barbet chicks. The barbet’s nest hole may be more inaccessible to the snake as the barbet is a powerful nest excavator, adept at drilling deep and angular into a tree with its formidable bill just like a woodpecker. Parakeets are not as proficient. They rely on natural cavities in tree trunks / boughs or occupy holes drilled by other bird species or improvise on a tree crevice by clearing out and somewhat enlarging it. The barbet’s large, menacing bill capable of delivering nasty pecks could also dissuade snakes.

vjswild2@gmail.com

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