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Re: Snakes, Bluebirds, and RAID
CarolinaBirders . . .
I've been wrestling for the past 12 hours or so about how to respond
to the recent public posting (below) in which a listserv member
recommended squirting RAID into a bluebird nestbox to drive out a
snake. In the same posting there was a suggestion that turpentine be
applied to nestbox posts to keep out fire ants.
My quandary came when I couldn't decide whether to reply to the
member privately or with a public post. Obviously, I have come down
on the side of a general note to all, simply because there are
subscribers who--in their innocence--might follow this person's lead
in using toxic chemicals to manipulate wildlife.
As a birder and an educator/naturalist, I've spent most of my life
observing and studying all creatures great and small, as well as the
flora and habitats that coexist with them. I have a deep appreciation
for bluebirds and the difficulty we have caused them through
importing European Starlings and House Sparrows, and by continuing to
cut down snags with natural hollows that could serve as nesting sites.
I have an equal appreciation for snakes. Although I put up bluebird
boxes to try to attract bluebirds, local Black Ratsnakes frequently
do what they do well in climbing poles and removing chicks before
they can fly. I fully understood when I put up the boxes that snakes
might visit, so I believe it's not my privilege to legislate whether
the boxes get used by wrens or flying squirrels or blacksnakes.
I often get calls from folks who complain that their attempts to
attract wildlife end up bringing in organisms they'd rather not have,
and my responses are always the same:
--If you're putting out sunflower seeds to attract chickadees, you're
also putting out chickadees that will attract Sharp-shinned Hawks. Be
excited that a predatory bird has honored your yard, and spend some
time observing this creature as it goes about its business.
--If you build a garden pond and stock it with goldfish, don't
complain when a Great Blue Heron shows up to gobble the fish. After
all, how many folks can brag that they have a heron in their backyard?
--If you hang out a feeder to attract hummingbirds, you can bet that
sooner or later you're going to get other things that like to drink
sugar water, whether it's other birds, or bees, or ants, or yellow
jackets. If you study the habits of these interlopers, you're likely
to find a way to satisfy their needs as well as those of the
--And, to get back to the matter at hand, if you put an artificial
cavity on a pole in your yard, it's bound to attract the attention of
things that like to poke around in holes. In that aerial cavities are
pretty scarce in nature, one solution is to put up more nestboxes in
places that not every creature can get to.
The most disturbing thing about the RAID posting, of course, is that
it recommends the use of a chemical that has potential for harm. To
be honest, I don't know what the direct effect of spraying a snake
with RAID might be, but it can't be very good-hence the warning
labels on the aerosol container. I can easily visualize the snake
slithering rapidly to get away from the RAID and ignoring its usual
inbred caution, only to be snatched up by a Red-shouldered Hawk that
takes the RAID-laden snake back as an afternoon snack for the hawk
nestlings. Who knows what RAID might do when ingested by a
Red-shouldered Hawk chick?
I don't want to sound sanctimonious, for I am a sinner, too. I often
commute by bicycle, but I also drive a gasoline vehicle, I'm not a
vegetarian, and I sometimes buy things that are over-packaged.
Nonetheless, I've discovered there are plenty of mechanical ways to
protect goldfish from herons, hummingbird feeders from ants, and
bluebird chicks from blacksnakes, so I simply can't condone using
noxious chemicals like RAID and turpentine.
Next time a blacksnake tries to check out your bluebird box, either
sit there smug and satisfied because you found a way to outsmart the
snake and prevent its entry, or simply sit and watch as nature's
predator-prey scenario is acted out once again. Better yet, call in
all the local kids and next-door neighbors and use the bird-snake
interaction as a teaching opportunity in the hope that all those
folks will reach for the RAID a little less often.
Yours for birds and snakes and other living things,
>Two bluebird boxes recenty checked had snakes in them. In the neighbor's
>box she looked in and saw the snake, took the box down and tried to shake
>it out. Two barely alive chicks fell out but not the snake. I suggested
>giving the snake a sqirt of Raid and he gave up and came out.
> In the box at our Senior Center I noted that there was no feeding
>activity so I reached up to feel the nest and what I felt were not eggs.
>After a second check I slid the nest out and there was a beautiful
>creature almost 3' long coiled up and pretty much asleep. The nest was a
>chickadee or titmouse.
> Another bird loving neighbor told me that once snakes enter a bluebird
>box or a martin house the birds will not use it any more. Same for fire
>ants. An old fashioned remedy is to apply turpentine around the post.
BILL HILTON JR., "The Piedmont Naturalist"
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History
1432 DeVinney Road
York, South Carolina 29745
Voice: (803) 684-5852
eFax: (503) 218-0845
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a 501(c)(3)
non-profit research and education organization, so all in-kind or
monetary gifts to Operation RubyThroat and the Center are
tax-deductible. Please visit our websites:
Hilton Pond: <http://www.hiltonpond.org>
Operation RubyThroat: <http://www.rubythroat.org>
"Never trust a person too lazy to get up for sunrise or too busy to
watch the sunset."