What To Consider Before Using Fake Owl Decoys To Keep Snakes Away

A pair of enormous eyes stare down hungrily into your backyard. With wings positioned mid-flap, it's clear this particular bird is about to take off. At least, that's what you hope any snakes visiting your backyard think of the decoy owl you attached to the lowest branch of the tree overlooking your garden beds. Before heading out to buy a bunch of cheap plastic or pricey ceramic faux owls, you need to consider whether this simple trick that helps keep snakes out of your garden works at all. Given a snake's poor eyesight and the decoy's lack of realistic movement and scent, it actually can't even detect a faux owl statue. Rather than being frightened away, a snake will simply ignore it.

Let's consider the evidence for the method. Radio station Cat Country 102.9 staffer Kris Edwards says his sister successfully used decoy owls to deter copperheads, a type of snake, on her South Carolina property. Optimistic, yes, but wholly anecdotal. When Fluther, a question-answer website, user BBSDTfamily inquired about how to keep snakes off their property, one of the first responses was to "put up a decoy predator bird such as an owl." The key, the responder suggests, is where you put it in your yard — though they don't share any further details on positioning. Convincing? Forgive us for being skeptical.

They don't work

There's no denying owls predate snakes. In arid parts of the U.S., for example, reptiles make up as much as 15% of the diet of the native great horned owl. The trouble is, snake senses don't function in ways that would make a fake owl deterrent effective. They have poor eyesight, instead relying on heightened smell, touch, and a sixth sense, the vomeronasal system, to be aware of what's around them. A ceramic or plastic owl is scentless and doesn't move (with the exception of a few head-nodding statues), so a snake is unlikely to detect it, let alone be frightened away by it.

If you still want to test this method in your backyard, we get it! Experimentation lies at the heart of every good gardener ... or desperate snake-plagued homeowner. A colorful plastic decoy owl from Amazon costs $24.99 and can double as Halloween yard decor. Walmart has a large plastic fake owl with a rotating head for $19.99. If you prefer something more sculptural, get a polyresin owl on branch statue from Wayfair for $47.24.

You can always keep snakes out of your yard by removing preferred hiding spots. Keep lawn grass short, regularly trim low-lying trees and shrubs, store firewood away from the home, and seal cracks and holes in walls and pavements. Additionally, use fences and predator guards to protect birds and animals from snake predation. Finally, chemical repellents are ineffective and may even be dangerous, so don't waste your money on them.