Snakes in a Coop

Spring has arrived and our ducks have reached their full growth.  Some of the early bloomers are already starting to lay tiny duck eggs and all is right in the world.  (Read HERE for why we went with ducks). And there are no snakes in our coop.

Or so we thought.  The warmer weather has also brought out some of the more unwanted critters to the yard: wasps, spiders, mosquitos, and, of course… Snakes.

We found the first one hanging out in the small chicken coop one evening as we were putting the ducks to bed.  With the help of our neighbor, we caught our first full-grown rat snake and relocated it.  Done!

But wait, there’s more.

A few days later, my husband captured the first picture of our slithery visitors, a long, dark female rat snake.  He tried to catch it but it slipped under the house.

Rat Snake in my driveway

The next day, we found our long, sleek friend stretched out in the duck house.  It was ducky dinner time, and I was getting their food tray ready when I spotted her.  And then, everything happened at once.  The ducks followed me into the duck house, looking for dinner.  I was trying to prod the snake out of the coop and the ducks panicked because the snake and I were both in the coop.  Cue a stampede of ducks… Right on top of the snake.  They tramped that poor snake, and she wasn’t happy about it.  I saw her lunge at the ducks twice before she managed to get out of the coop through a small hole in the bottom.  Luckily, none of the ducks got bitten, and I was able to get them fed and put up for the night.

She was back the next day and left through that same small hole from the night before.

One snake is a fluke.  Two snakes in a coop, well that’s a problem.  I pondered over our coop vulnerabilities and came up with a solution.  My husband was out of town, so it was up to me to solve this incursion problem.  The next morning, I got up and headed to the hardware store.   I stocked up on hardware cloth and gumption and got to work.

When my husband built the coop, he focused on securing it against our known predators: coyotes, bobcats, opossums, neighborhood cats, and raccoons.  He put welded wire along the inside and outside of the coop to prevent digging, and he placed large paving bricks around the inside perimeter of the coop for the same reason.  But he left some larger ventilation gaps.  Too small for our other predators, but big enough for snakes.

My job was to dig out the bricks, put down the hardware cloth to cover the holes along the bottom of the coop, and then replace the bricks.  Simple, right?  Wrong.

The birds have been sleeping in the coop for only 2 months, but already the layers of straw and duck poop were at prehistoric excavation levels.  And I needed to peel back these layers to expose the bottom edges of the bricks.

Now I checked when I started working.  There were no snakes on the ground of the coop and a cursory glance told me there were no snakes in the rafters.  I set to work.  A while later, my neighbor comes by to check on me and we start chatting about the snakes.  We look up, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a snake in the rafters, just chilling above our heads.

I’ve relocated a few snakes in the past.  We had three at our old house: one who had eaten three chicks and was sleeping under the box we put out so they could get closer to the heat lamp, the second was just hanging out near the house after some heavy rain, and the third I found one morning in the shower pan of our main bathroom.  But for relocation, I’ve always just shooed them into a box/bag.  I’ve never picked one up.

This rafter-snake happened to be perfectly situated for me to grab it.

I stared at the snake.  It stared at me.

This was the moment of truth.  I doubted my ability to get it into a box or bag based on how it was draped across the rafters.  The previous two nights, this snake had been agile enough to slip around my tools and scootch right on out through a small hole.  I didn’t want to just shoo it out any more.  This was its third strike, and it was out.

We stepped out of the coop to find a bucket, and when I came back in, the snake had moved a little, giving me an even better angle to grab it.  Every nature show I’d ever seen flashed through my mind.  The TV hosts grabbing snakes played in my memories.  It was time.

I reached up and snatched the snake.

That snake didn’t even care.  She was super chill and along for the ride.  I loaded her into the bucket and moved her to the nature preserve a few miles down the road.

Feeling a mix of nervousness and exhilaration at my bold actions, I got back to work, making the enclosure more snake resistant.  That was that.  No more snakes in my coop.

Until the next day when I came back out to work and found a new snake sleeping in the coop’s doorway, full of MY duck eggs.  I nudged it with the handle of a rake, and it slithered away quickly.  This one was feistier than yesterday’s snake.

I worked some more on the coop, which honestly consisted mostly of excavating and shoveling duck bedding.  By the end of the day, I had blocked off most of the holes the snakes were using.  My husband would have to finish up for me because tomorrow was Monday, and I had to go to work.

Monday rolls around and I’m doing my normal workday stuff when he texts me.  “The brown snake is back.”

The brown snake returns in the coop

He’s not keen on messing with a feisty snake, so he shuts the door to the coop and decides to wait for backup.  When I get home, the snake is still tightly curled up in the rafters of the coop. With its head tucked inside its coils, we can’t quite tell what kind of snake it is, so I resort to my trusty solution when dealing with snakes.

Poke it with a stick.

Like a stubborn cat, this snake won’t move.  I poke and prod the slithery nope-rope and it refuses to budge.  After a solid five minutes of aggravating the snake, it finally, reluctantly moves, and I get a good look at its head.  It looks to me like another rat snake. 

More poking and prodding gets the snake to start reluctantly looking for a way to avoid me.  Which, luckily for me, means the snake is stretching out and crossing the rafters, putting its head at a better angle for me to snatch.

Feeling emboldened by Saturday’s snake wrangling success, I go for it again.  This snake is not chill.  This snake is not happy.  I have thoroughly pissed off this snake.  And I’m now holding a wriggling, writhing, angry danger-noodle.

I hold on to its head for dear life while my husband snaps a couple of pictures to prove that I’m stupid enough to grab large wild snakes.  Then we drop it into the bucket and seal the lid.  And we are off to the nature preserve to let it join its other two friends.

Done and done!  No more snakes in a coop!

Or maybe not…

But wait... there's more snakes in a coop

Here we go again… the saga continues…

*This blog post should not be used to determine safe handling procedures or advice for dealing with or identifying wild snakes. Everything contained herein is my own personal journey and probably overall bad advice.

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