The northern black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) is a long slender 36- to 72-inch black snake with a white chin that inhabits a wide variety of early successional habitats. It occurs at the northern edge of its range in southern Maine, central New Hampshire, and southern New York. Threats include development of upland habitat, habitat loss and mortality from sand and gravel mining, mortality from vehicles on roadways and utility rights-of-way, human persecution, den compaction from equipment, and habitat succession from grass and shrublands to forests. It is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in five states in BCR 14.

Habitat Needs

Black racers use a wide variety of early successional habitats, including brushy areas, utility rights‐of‐way, grasslands, old fields, the edges of agricultural fields, sand-pits, rocky ridges and ledges, and managed or disturbed forests. At the northern edge of their range they may have home ranges exceeding 250 acres and often move between forested habitats to reach preferred early successional habitats. Mammal burrows, rock crevices, rotting logs, and accumulated vegetation are required features, all of which serve as nest sites, retreats, and hibernacula. High hibernacula site fidelity is common. Juvenile prey consists of insects. Small mammals are the dominant prey for adults.

Habitat Management Practices

Maintain large clusters of old fields, shrublands, and young forests, with minimal development in between, through rotational mowing and/or commercial timber harvesting.

Enhance the understory in forested stands between patches of old fields, shrublands, and young forests through silvilculturally appropriate means depending on forest type and management goals. Refer to recommendations for those forest types for additional guidance.

Allow dead trees and woody material to decompose naturally. After timber harvests, leave stumps, blowovers, logs, dead standing snags, and other woody material to provide current and future nesting and foraging areas. When whole-tree chipping, fell and leave some low-quality trees.

Avoid using erosion control netting and other landscaping netting made of plastic that may trap and kill snakes.

Rock outcrops are particularly important as hibernacula. If shaded, thin trees to allow significant sunlight to hit the forest floor.

American woodcock (Scolopax minor) recommendations may be beneficial where timber harvests larger than natural disturbances offset a lack of early successional habitat.


Carloni, J. 2015. American Woodcock. Pages A281-A287 in the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan, NH Fish & Game Department, Concord, NH.

Clifford, B. and M. Marchand. 2015. Northern Black Racer. Pages A17-131 in the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan, NH Fish & Game Department, Concord, NH.

Ernst, C. H. and E. M. Ernst. 2003. Coluber constrictor. Pages 77-85 in Snakes of the United States and Canada. The Smithonian Institution

Kjoss, V. A. and J. A. Litvaitis. 2001. Community structure of snakes in a human-dominated landscape. Biological Conservation 98: 285-292.

Mitchell, J.C., A.R. Breisch, and K.A. Buhlmann. 2006. Habitat management guidelines for amphibians and reptiles of the Northeastern United States. Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Technical Bulletin HMG-3, Montgomery, Alabama. 108pp.

Additional Information