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” as we don’t want to harm the snakes, one of our most misunderstood critters. And to learn more about snakes (and maybe fall in love), check out our “Snakes” in our Underdog section.
The Fateful Morning…
So what happened that 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 and 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 and Dale greases the pole with vaseline. Now I am not 100% sure the vaseline keeps the snake from climbing, but it makes Dale feel better so…
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.
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 as long as you don’t mount your bat house on a tree.
Please No Bird Netting
Please, please do not 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 and then you have to cut the snake out of the netting.
Now you have lost your resident snake. A lose/lose situation. Snakes keep lots of rodents away from your house and hopefully don’t eat your now protected baby birds. Plus, they are really fun to watch move through your garden.
Also, we found a small cone around your pole doesn’t work. If you have a big snake, it can climb past the cone.
Some folks use a wire mesh in front of the bluebird hole. Our birds won’t nest in the box with the wiring and we aren’t comfortable adding it once eggs are laid (as recommended) so we don’t use it.
We would love to hear from you about what has worked and what has not. Share your ideas at [email protected] or leave a comment in the section below. We are always looking for better ways to protect our bluebirds!