It is still unclear how the owl wound up with a gopher snake wrapped around it. As owls and snakes share a taste for rodents, they could have had a dispute over breakfast — jockeying for position on the food chain.
On the other hand, owls have been known to eat snakes, so it’s possible this owl tried to bite off more than it could chew, so to speak. Gopher snakes, unlike rattlesnakes which are pit vipers, are not poisonous, so their only defense against predatory birds is to constrict, wrap their coils around the attacker and squeeze.
In any case, last Thursday morning, Marlon Peyton, who manages the Fauna Foundation animal rescue facility above Las Flores Canyon, came upon what he at first took to be a dead owl. “I was feeding the goats and the pigs when I saw the bird,” he said. “I thought it was dead, then I got closer and saw the snake. I asked Richard to give me a shovel. I couldn’t see what kind of snake it was.”
Volunteer Richard Semenowicz, who has a particular affection for owls, came along and saw the snake coiled around the owl. “We touched the snake with a shovel, and then we could see it wasn’t a rattlesnake. It moved away into the bushes.
“The owl was in shock. Then I saw she moved a little bit,” he said. “We netted it and called the wildlife rescue.”
Rebecca Dmytryk came and took the owl to the California Wildlife Center in Malibu Canyon. From there it went to Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital, where it rooms with another bird rescued the week before.
“It looked like it was going to be all right,” Dmytryk said.
Semenowicz’s theory is that the owl was hunting for rats or mice and that the snake was doing the same thing. Whether one of them had actually caught a rodent and the other tried to take it away is still a mystery. Peyton said he thinks the owl may have tried to grab the snake, not realizing how long it was.
“It was three-and-a-half feet long at least,” Semenowicz said. “The owl was a mottled gray and quite big with beautiful eyes. I’m an owl lover. I live up the hill and we see owls here all the time. I hear them talking.”
Well, the other owls certainly have something to talk about now. Trouble is, without an avian interpreter, no one is likely to find out whooo attacked whom.