Oh, Just a Blue-winged Kookaburra with a Sea Snake in its Beak - Observation of the Week, 12/21/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Bar-bellied Sea Snake, snagged as prey by a Blue-winged Kookaburra! Seen in Australia by @joswan12.

Walking one’s dogs is often a pretty mundane activity, but in 2015 Jo Duncan’s morning dog walk included a venomous snake dangling over her head. “I was taking my dogs for an early morning walk at the beach, also hoping to get some sunrise photos, when I saw what I thought was a dead snake,” she says.

I then realised there were about 4-5 kookaburras in the tree eyeing me and the snake. The dogs and I kept walking, and when we strolled by again about half an hour later, this particular kookaburra had the still writhing snake in its beak, and it was whipping it against the branch to finish it off. I kept creeping closer to get a better shot, but eventually I guess I got too close and he (or she) flew off with the snake! A flying snake over my head! 

Jo recently posted her photos of this encounter to iNat and the community identified the snake as a bar-bellied sea snake, one of many species in the genus Hydrophis. A member of the Elapid family of snakes (which includes cobras), they are quite venomous but like many other sea snakes are not known to be particularly aggressive. Bar-bellied sea snakes have quite narrow mouths and are known to prey on snake-eels in the sand flats. In her study [PDF] of this species in Shark Bay on Australia’s west coast, Megan Kerford noted that bar-bellied sea snakes in that area preyed exclusively on them, and foraged for them in the sand flats during low tide. 

Kookaburras (Genus Dacelo) belong to the Kingfisher family and sport large heads and beaks which they use to hunt prey. Blue-winged kookaburras are quite large, measuring about 40 cm (16 in) in length, and hunt insects, frogs, invertebrates, lizards, and yes, snakes. According to The Australian Museum, “they show extra care when snakes are the prey.”  

Now a high school English teacher in the Northern Territory, Jo’s sunrise photography habit naturally turned into curiosity about wildlife on the beach. When putting together a photo book for her nephew, she started looking up the names of the birds she photographed, which she says led to her learning insect, reptiles, frogs, and more. “Wildlife and landscape photography is a great hobby for me,” she explains. “I can recharge my soul and my mind ready for the classroom again.”

She joined iNat in April of this year, and uses it as a way to share her photos and identify their subjects, as well as add IDs to other users’ observations (“particularly frogs, butterflies and birds”), peruse photos, and to contribute species occurrence data. She tells me, “I believe it's important for communities to know what animals share their space, and know their names, so they feel more connected to their own environment and feel invested in protecting what we have.”

- Here’s some footage of a blue-winged kookaburra trying to swallow a python. It’s not easy.

- Let us go back in time to 2018, and another Observation of the Week involving a flying bird and its elapid prey.

Posted by tiwane tiwane, December 21, 2020 23:10


Great read and awesome encounter/photo!

Posted by thebeachcomber almost 2 years ago (Flag)

May 21 2020 I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk in Maryland carrying a frog.


Posted by lakekoshare almost 2 years ago (Flag)

Amazing photos and a amazing experience to have had!

Posted by roshan2010 almost 2 years ago (Flag)

What an observation! Awesome :)

Posted by lisa_bennett almost 2 years ago (Flag)

Thank you so much for your great observation!

Posted by susanhewitt almost 2 years ago (Flag)


Posted by cesarcastillo almost 2 years ago (Flag)

Brilliant photo, thanks for sharing with us all. Amazing observation too, that's a lot of snake for one Kookaburra to eat! J

Posted by johnhowes almost 2 years ago (Flag)

Pretty cool Jo. Thanks for sharing!

Posted by danzawacki almost 2 years ago (Flag)

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