Thursday, August 22, 2019



         After what I wrote about snakes a couple of columns back I got many letters and emails that basically asked me why a professional naturalist would kill blacksnakes on his place.  It goes back to the fact that we have few natural ecosystems nowadays, and I am trying to improve the one I live in.
         Here on Lightnin’ Ridge, I try my best to protect and propagate the desirable native species of wild things that are hard-pressed.  That includes all ground nesting birds; quail, woodcock, wild turkey, whipporwills and others. All these species are declining almost everywhere in the Ozarks. Yes, even the wild turkey.  I don’t think biologists know that, if they do they don’t seem to want to do anything about, and there IS urgency to it. The greatest reason, I believe, is the increase to high populations by predators like feral cats and birds of prey. But real damage to those birds listed is done by egg-eaters.  I really think that whipporwills and chuck-wills-widows are in danger of being extinct or near extinction within 20 years.  Their numbers in the Ozarks are likely down by 50 percent over the last ten or fifteen years.  Only a small percentage of people know this, because the majority of our populations are city dwellers who have seldom heard one of our nightbirds.  If you get right down to it, nighthawks and whipporwills themselves are creatures only a small percentage of Midwesterners today have even seen. Of course, black snakes are not the only culprits, but here on Lightnin' Ridge, this small ecosystem I watch over has a big problem with armadillo’s, possums, raccoons, skunks and black snakes, all efficient egg eaters.

          Now a farmer with a barn where grain is stored likes having a black snake around to eliminate house mice and perhaps Norway rats.  Neither of them are even present on this wooded ridgetop where I keep watch.  Blacksnakes here are not mouse and rat eaters, they eat baby birds no matter how high the nest is, they eat rabbit babies in their nests, and they eat every egg they get close to.  Biologists today are at a loss to understand all this because they are folks who, in general, grew up in city suburbs.  But I tell them, take four or five chicken eggs out into the woods up here on my ridge and place them well covered in a place in the woods and see what happens.  They will be gone in about 12 to 48 hours.  Folks with hen houses do not tolerate black snakes for that very reason… you cannot keep them out… and they don’t eat just one.

        Just last year I sat on my back porch and watched a six foot long black snake ascending a big oak toward a dove nest on a limb about eight foot above the ground.  I took photos of him and then shot him.  We do not have a shortage of them here. I have made the mistake of leaving a basement door often and having to deal with the mess one or two blacksnakes leave behind, similar to that you might expect of a pigeon roost.

          Every time I have an omelet I realize that I am also a threat to a hen house.  Heck, I even eat the chickens!  But I am not a threat to the exposed eggs of whipporwills or quail or woodcock and turkeys.  Black snakes and armadillos are.  They will both continue to exist here, but I will keep their numbers as low as I can.  If I was a dairy farmer, I might be a bigger friend of the black snake.  I should add that while I kill any poison snake here on Lightnin’ Ridge, I was a contract naturalist exploring and reporting on wild and natural areas a few decades back for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. I never killed anything in those wild areas.  Even timber rattlers were safe from me because it was their habitat, not mine.

      One reader voiced concern with my black snake elimination campaign because he had heard they eat venomous snakes.  They do not!!  That snake, which eats copperheads nearly as big as they are, is the king snake, of which the
most common subspecies here is a salt-and-pepper on a black body appearance and a different body shape entirely.

           I think one of the greatest threats to our natural ecosystems here in the Ozarks is feral cats and armadillos.  If you truly want to be a help to quail and woodcock, whipporwill and other ground nesting birds, never leave an armadillo alive.  On the highway, run over any that you see.  There are millions of them around us now… intruders that show what ‘diversity’ really does.  Among our diverse invaders are starlings, carp, snakehead fish, ash borers, Norway rats and the boa constrictors which are destroying the natural system in the everglades.  Diversity doesn’t work in nature!  Really it doesn’t work with people either, but that is another mistake humans have made which cannot be remedied.  Here on this remote Ozark ridge where I live, far from any cities or towns, it is not a problem I have to deal with.

Both my magazines are being printed this week.  If you want to get one, call my office, 417-777-5227.  Email or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO. 65613

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