For local wildlife, living in the big city can be rough. Encounters with people and their dogs, cats, and cars all present threats not experienced by critters living outside of urban areas. Plus, these city dwellers still have to contend with many of the usual threats like predators and weather extremes. Here are two photos celebrating the scrappiness it takes to be a city dwelling reptile, and also celebrating the incredible opportunities to observe urban nature in action.
There are so many cool things going on in this photo. Cool factoid 1: Elysian Park! Smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles, just minutes from downtown, are two big native vertebrates in a life or death struggle.
Cool factoid 2: The where. This photo was taken in the middle of Scott Avenue in Echo Park. Scott Avenue runs through Elysian Park, which this gopher snake likely called home. David stated that the hawk “just came down with the snake in the street.”
The likely scenario is that this juvenile hawk spotted the snake and thought it would be a tasty meal. However, while tasty, a snake of this size is not necessarily an easy meal for a young hawk. A big snake means a big defense. Any misplaced grab by the hawk, in which the talons are far back on the snake means that the snake gets multiple loops around the bird to constrict it. This appears to be what is happening here with the gopher snake constricting the hawk’s abdomen and apparently pinning back one talon. The defense was enough to impair flight and the pair ended up in the middle of the street. David observed the pair for five minutes, during which time the snake slowly freed itself, and both eventually departed the area.
Cool factoid 3: The when. The photo was taken Friday, December 27. That’s right, Winter. Or at least what the calendar tells us is Winter. With our unseasonably warm weather, the temp that day was 82 in Echo Park after multiple days of warm weather and mild evenings. So while the calendar says it is Winter, that doesn’t mean our local reptiles are not active.
Cool factoid 4: Added bonus coolness—look closely at the snake’s neck. It is dramatically flattening its neck. This is a common, stereotyped defensive display used by gopher snakes and other snakes to look bigger.