Predator avoidance of noxious prey, aposematism and defensive mimicry are normally associated with bright, contrasting patterns and colours. However, noxious prey may be unable to evolve conspicuous coloration because of other selective constraints, such as the need to be inconspicuous to their own prey or to specialist predators. Many venomous snakes, particularly most vipers, display patterns that are apparently cryptic, but nevertheless highly characteristic, and appear to be mimicked by other, non–venomous snakes. However, predator avoidance of viper patterns has never been demonstrated experimentally. Here, the analysis of 813 avian attacks on 12 636 Plasticine snake models in the field shows that models bearing the characteristic zigzag band of the adder (Vipera berus) are attacked significantly less frequently than plain models. This suggests that predator avoidance of inconspicuously but characteristically patterned noxious prey is possible. Our findings emphasize the importance of mimicry in the ecological and morphological diversification of advanced snakes.