Pandemic birding and nature hikes have kept us close to home since March of 2020, and one of our favorite places to get outdoors is in Rouge National Urban Park. On an early June day, we were very fortunate to see an Eastern Milksnake in Bob Hunter Memorial Conservation Area.
We had spent a glorious morning in our garden where a lot of things were buzzing around…bees, hornets, and butterflies. The mercury was climbing through the morning with the promise of a late-afternoon thunderstorm, so we left right after lunch for a hike.
The Conservation Area had only recently been re-opened as pandemic restrictions were eased. We felt like two kids in a candy store. Setting off down the hill from Reesor Road, Bob and I had hopes of seeing a snake. On a couple of previous occasions, we have spotted other species basking on the gravel walkway.
Just over the crest of the hill, I noticed what I thought was a stick laying at the side of the trail. Bob and I were chatting away, and by the time I realized what I was looking at, Bob was nearly on top of the snake with his boot.
With a bit of a shriek, I drew Bob’s attention to the snake because I was afraid it would be frightened away by his close proximity.
I had time for a couple of quick photos with my camera before the Eastern Milksnake started to move across the trail.
Eastern Milksnakes are named for the false belief that these snakes used to take milk from cows in barns. In fact, they commonly hang out near barns where there is usually a steady supply of mice and rats, high on the list of their preferred foods.
Eastern Milksnakes are not venomous. Instead, an Eastern Milksnake clasps its prey in its mouth, coils around its prey and then constricts to suffocate the prey. In addition to rodents, frogs, birds and even small snakes make up the rest of its diet.
Early June is a good time to see Eastern Milksnakes since they mate in early spring and females lay their eggs in late June or early July. A female will make a nest under a rotten log or stump where she will lay anywhere from 3-24 eggs. Alternatively, the abandoned burrow of some small mammal could also meet her requirements.
If feeling threatened, an Eastern Milksnake will vibrate its tail. If the snake happens to be in among dead vegetation, the vibration will cause a buzzing or rattling sound startlingly similar to that of a Rattlesnake. As we observed this individual, it simply flicked its tongue in and out as it tested the air for scents.
The Milksnake seemed curious and moved directly towards Bob. I hastily grabbed the cellphone and switched it to video mode, but that takes a few seconds.
By the time the cellphone was ready to record, the snake was almost across the walkway, and Bob was quickly backing away as he tried for more photos of the snake.
Given that Eastern Milksnakes are preyed upon by Crows, Hawks and small Mammals, we sure hope that this individual was successful in mating and bearing offspring.
Bob and I continued on our walk through the conservation area since we had only just got started. We look forward to next spring when we might again see another Eastern Milksnake in Rouge National Urban Park. It is so wonderful to have nature in the city!