Why screech owls keep blind snakes in their nests

April 4, 2016, 6 a.m.
A screech owl peers out from a tree cavity.
Photo: Chris Hill/Shutterstock

When it comes to keeping a nest tidy, some birds will take help where they can get it. This is certainly true for the eastern screech owl.

During nesting season, adults bring home meals to their chicks, and sometimes those meals include still-wriggling blind snakes, a small reptile that looks a bit like an extra long earthworm. When blind snakes escape into the litter of the nest, they actually make for great company.

"These survivors feed on the insect larvae they find there—larvae that would otherwise parasitize the owl nestlings. A study conducted in Texas by Baylor University scientists found that Eastern Screech-Owl chicks grew faster and healthier in nests kept vermin-free by these 'domesticated' blind snakes," writes Audubon.

It's not too often that would-be prey ends up providing a service by becoming a predator in one's own home. But this situation ends up working out perfectly for screech owls!

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.