Is This Hack For Keeping Snakes Off Bird Feeders A Waste Of Time?

If there's anything that'll make you rethink putting a bird feeder in your yard, it's a snake scaling it. Search online for a solution, and you'll inevitably come across this advice: Tie a bundle of bird netting onto the pole below your feeder. While this will stop snakes, so it technically isn't a waste of time, it's also likely to injure, or worse, kill them. The slinky serpents get tangled and are unable to free themselves. There are strict regulations around capturing, harming, or killing select snake species in many U.S. states., especially native or endangered snakes. Plus, no ropes are beneficial, and other animals, including the avian visitors you're trying to encourage, can get caught in the net's potentially deadly web.

Snakes have been known to prey on birds at feeders. Signs a snake is near your feeder, even if you can't see it, include fewer birds visiting or seeds being eaten. More often than not, however, snakes are there for another reason. You see, our beautiful feathered friends are rather uncouth dinner guests. As they rummage through or scuffle over the feed you've carefully placed in the tray or jar, they flick seeds onto the ground, creating a handy pile of food around the feeder. This smattering of seeds and grains attracts mice, rats, and other rodents; it's these wee mammals that snakes prefer for their next meal. By inviting one form of wildlife into your yard (for example, wild birds), you inevitably invite their companions — and their predators.

Why putting netting around your bird feeder pole is a bad idea

Snakes can easily climb smooth, flat surfaces, so it's understandable that people believe a tangle of netting on a pole would be a foolproof way to keep snakes from slithering around in your yard in an attempt to find lunch. The idea is that you simply cut the snake out of the netting and set it free, but you risk harming yourself and the snake. Plus, what happens to a trapped snake if you don't check your net barrier everyday? Well, we can all guess at the tragic outcome of that scenario. It's probably not surprising to learn that wildlife experts and professional snake handlers don't recommend bird or landscaping netting as a snake deterrent option — or, really, at all, at least in residential backyards.

The snakes that target birds — the ones that climb the poles of bird feeders and birdhouses — are most often non-venomous, so while these species may pose a minor threat to birds, they pose no threat to watching humans. We say "minor threat" because research suggests that snakes are infrequent feeder predators; hawks and domestic cats are far more of a worry, and neither animal is likely to be deterred by netting placed around a pole. The problem really lies with the size of the holes in the netting (0.7 to 1.5 inches in diameter being the most problematic) and the net's flexibility, plastic mesh with fine strands being the worst offender.

Humane ways of keeping snakes away from bird feeders

You can try to deter snakes by reducing the incidence of animals they prey on. That means cleaning up any fallen bird seed and fruit daily, or investing in a spill-free bird feeder. Think, too, about where you set up your feeder. Keep it away from long grass, dense shrubs, or mulch layers over 2 inches thick, which snakes take advantage of to sneak up on unsuspecting birds. Use a detachable feeder that you can leave out just long enough for birds to get a few seeds and take in before snakes learn of its location. Don't let vines grow up the bird feeder pole; the plant stems and leaves give snakes better purchase. Baffles, guards, or even Slinkys affixed to the pole may also offer some measure of protection.

If you're seeing a lot of snake attacks on your feeders or have truly exhausted all other deterrent options and want to try netting your feeder poles, something a little less messy might be a safe option. The Harry Krueger Snake Trap (DIY plans are available at Bluebird Conservation) uses a stiff wire mesh attached to a solid frame, making it harder for snakes to get so tangled they can't free themselves. And, of course, there's another option to consider, but passionate backyard birders probably won't like it ... Keep snakes from slithering into your yard by ditching the popular feature — yup, we mean your bird feeder — altogether.