Just What is a Snake Guard?
If you have a bluebird house or any kind of bird nesting box, you might not have given much thought to snake guards. Nor had we until that fateful morning… But let’s back up. Just what is a snake guard?
Snakes, like all critters, need to eat. And one of their favorite foods is bird eggs, baby birds or even baby bats. Yikes.
In order to protect your bird nests or bat houses, you can install snake guards. Properly installed, it will help prevent snakes, and other animals, from gobbling up your precious babies. Notice I say, it will “help” as nothing will completely protect against predators as we have learned.
But maybe this blog should be called “Protecting Your Bluebirds AND Snakes With Snake Guards” since we also don’t want to harm the snakes, one of our most misunderstood critters. And to learn more about snakes (and maybe fall in love or at least gain some appreciation), check out “Snakes” in our Education section.
The Fateful Morning…
Let’s go back to a disastrous morning. Waking up to an awful commotion outside, we know something is terribly wrong. The mamma & papa bluebird are squawking and swooping around the bluebird box where their 5 babies are days away from fledging. Racing outside, we shoo the birds away and look in the box. Instead of seeing our precious baby bluebirds, there is our resident snake curled up inside with 5 bulges in its body. We are absolutely heartbroken.
But how can we be mad at the snake? It has to eat. We chase it out of the box; by now, the bluebird parents are nowhere to be seen. Then, as if a reminder, we see the snake every day for a week with those tiny little bulges. So sad, but it’s really not the snake’s fault. It is ours for not protecting our bluebirds with a snake guard.
Mother Nature is not always kind. However, we are determined not to let it happen again on our watch. And so far, so good.
Protecting Your Babies
Currently, we have 3 bluebird nestboxes, a couple of wren houses and a bat house. We did a lot of research on the best ways to protect our babies. Here are some of the lessons we learned.
First, try not to place your bird box or bat house on a tree. This is especially true if you live in the south, where snakes are more active. Pretty sound advice. Of course, early on, we didn’t follow the advice with our bat house and so far, we have no bats. And if you want to learn all about the superpowers of bats and how they eat up to 1,000 mosquitos an hour, read our Bats blog.
Ideally, put your bluebird nest box on a pole. Since snakes are great climbers (which we learned the hard way), you will need snake guards. We found a cone baffle system worked best. We have 2 cones on top of each other. Originally we greased the pole with vaseline. But we now know this isn’t a good idea as insects and even birds can get the vaseline on their bodies or in their feathers. Plus it does nothing, we found, to deter the snake.
You could also use a stovepipe baffle but for us, it hasn’t been very effective. Both our squirrels and snakes seem to be able to get around the pipe.
How About Slinkys?
Slinkys also work great. Both for bird feeders and nest boxes. Wait, did you say a slinky? The kind we played with as kids? Yes, a slinky.
Attach it to the bottom of your birdhouse and let it dangle. They are really effective in keeping both squirrels and snakes from climbing the pole and are easy to install. And they are easy to find at a dollar store or you can order from Amazon (of course!)
If you are trying to protect bat houses or maybe getting ready to buy one, check out Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation article Selecting a Quality Bat House. Slinky’s will also work for bat houses as long as you don’t mount your bat house on a tree.
Please, No Bird Netting
Please, please don’t use bird netting anywhere around your nestbox to deter snakes. Yes, it might stop them. But usually, the snake gets caught and dies a terrible death. Then you have to cut the snake out of the netting and it is just awful for you and worse for the snake.
And if the snake dies, you have now lost your resident snake. A lose/lose situation. Snakes keep lots of rodents away from your house.
Plus, they are really fun to watch move through your garden. I love watching our resident black snakes move across walls, through our garden or bask in the sun.
Does Wire Mesh Work?
A snake pokes his head out of a bluebird box with wire mesh.
Well, as you can see from the photo, wire mesh doesn’t work all of the time. And as we keep learning, nothing will prevent snakes 100% of the time.
Our bluebirds refuse to even inspect a box as a potential new home with wire mesh on it so we don’t use it. Some suggest adding the mesh after the birds lay their eggs, but it disturbs the bluebird family too much.
We would love to hear your ideas at [email protected] . What has worked and what hasn’t been successful?
And here’s to spring, and hoping you have lots of bluebird babies!
And to read more about snake guards, check out these articles:
Dealing with Predators by Nest Watch