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There’s a Python Living in My Rain Gutter

https://blog.nature.org/science/2020/11/16/theres-a-python-living-in-my-rain-gutter/

There’s a python living inside my rain gutter.

Or maybe inside my roof. We’re not quite sure. We haven’t seen the snake yet, but we know it’s up there, slithering amid drying eucalyptus leaves and basking in the radiant heat from the tin roof.

I saw the snake about a month ago, on the first warm day as winter fades into spring here in Australia. I went out to check the mail in the early afternoon. My mailbox was empty, but there was a 7-foot-long carpet python basking on the warm asphalt on the driveway. Hello, snake!

We stared at each other for a few minutes, and then it slithered into the neighbor’s storm drain.

mottled snake on leaves with a dark background
© Adam Brice / TNC Photo Contest 2017

Fast forward to last week, when I found a large hunk of snakeskin in my front yard. About 10 inches long, it was thick as my wrist and mottled with dark and light patches. Thrilled that the python was still around, I turned back to the house to shout for my partner, Troy.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something fluttering in the breeze above me. It was another piece of snakeskin, caught on the power line that runs from within reach of a low tree to our roof. Oh.

My eyes followed the powerline to the rain gutter, and then the rain gutter over to our balcony bird feeder, where a mob of rainbow lorikeets are feeding noisily. Oh. Oh no.

rainbow colored parrots feeding
Feeding rainbow lorikeets © Benjamin James Moy / TNC Photo Contest 2019

Apparently, this isn’t the first time a python has taken up residence in the house. Our neighbor confirmed that another large python — perhaps even the same snake — used to hide in the rain gutter before we moved in, laying in wait for the parrots who like to bathe in the water after storms.

I have a bad feeling that we may end up feeding more than just the birds.

Normally, I wouldn’t flinch at the thought of a snake catching its next meal. I grew up devouring Attenborough-narrated wildlife documentaries where the lion always eats the gazelle. I’m comfortable with predators and prey, ecological food chains, the circle of life.

Except… spring is here, and with it young birds. Our feeder has been busy for weeks, with parrots and pigeons scarfing down seeds and fruit for their mates incubating eggs and downy young. Then just last week the first juveniles appeared, on tentative wings, their feathers still scraggly in spots.

red and green bird in flight
A male Australian king parrot. © Donnacha Keniry / TNC Photo Contest 2017

There’s a young male king parrot we call Fruit Loop, who toddles right up to the window to watch us watch him. We stare at each other, mutually curious, face and feathers inches from the glass. He earned his nickname when he flew in and hung upside-down from the side of the house, peering in the window and chattering to himself for a full minute.

Fruit Loop flies in each day in the early afternoon, perching in the tree and squeaking his head off until his mother arrives. Then they feed together, occasionally joined by an adult male, Tomato, named for his favorite food that he thieves from our garden.

And then there are the lorikeets, a raucous rainbow of color. They feed in pairs, followed by a post-snack cuddle, or in garrulous groups of up to 15 birds. They’re the bullies of the bunch, constantly squabbling amongst themselves and chasing away all other birds who dare to show up. They chatter and strut, head-butting other birds out of their space, and sometimes they seem to dance in a bizarre and hilarious display of head-bobs and body rolls, shimmies and shakes.

two birds on a branch one with a blue face
A laughing kookaburra and a blue-faced honeyeater. © Phillip Weight / TNC Photo Contest 2019

The only birds that can intimidate the lorikeets are the massive white-headed pigeons, who show up in mobs of 5 to 6 birds in the early evenings and finally give the lorikeets a taste of their own medicine.

My favorites are the delicate pale-headed rosellas, bright yellow, red and blue like a primary school color-wheel. They too appear in pairs, with the parent birds chewing seeds and then delicately regurgitating them back into their little one’s mouths. It’s disgusting, and delightful.

And I can’t forget the currawongs and kookaburras, who appear like clockwork in the late morning for their snack, a piece of leftover fruit or meat each.

Photo © Brisbane City Council / Wikimedia Commons

And so now I wait, wondering when my birdwatching will take a dark turn.

Will the python pluck a parrot from our feeder? Or will it snatch the baby brush-tailed possum that scarfs down any leftover seeds each evening, waddling alongside its mother?

I can’t help but hope our python will slide into the roof instead, and take care of those rats I’ve heard burrowing between our walls. I haven’t had the heart to put out poison bait — which can kill native mammals and birds of prey — so perhaps the python will take care of the problem for me.

Until then, I have my very own slow-motion wildlife drama, taking place just out of sight.

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