Legend has it that St Patrick removed all the snakes from Ireland. This theory has no real basis in fact. What’s more likely is that snakes were hunted to extinction by the highly efficient raptor called the Limerick Snake Hawk, the last of which died in Dublin Zoo in 1926 having survived on a diet of long, thin sausages for twenty years.

The snake hawk was the same size as a peregrine falcon although its plumage was dark brown. It was thought the colouring enabled it to blend into the peat bogs. This hawk rarely flew above the prey and dived down to catch it. From the way the last hawk hunted the sausages as they were dragged along the ground by a greyhound, it’s thought the hawk was able to pick up the trail of a snake and then fly on ahead to ambush the snake, hence the need to blend into the background. Hunting in this manner meant the hawk would never pounce on sticks or small branches from a great height and hurt its talons. Once the snake was caught, the hawk would grip the reptile by the tail and swing the snake against either a tree or a rock and knock it unconscious before taking its prey back to the nest.

The Limerick Snake Hawk was a clinical hunter. At the zoo, the last surviving hawk never missed the sausages as they passed by, even when they were tied to the fastest greyhound. Scientists believe that if the hawk had maintained even a 60% rate of success in its hunting, instead of 100%, the species would have survived to this day. It’s ironic that a species, famed for their hunting skills, should become a victim of their own success.

Extract from Animals Evolution Forgot