Eliminate Mice to Eliminate Snakes
By Chris Williams on September 2, 2015.
I’ve seen a couple of black snakes in our yard, or maybe it’s the same snake twice! My husband refuses to kill them, he says they keep down the mice. I’ve seen some information on things you can do to keep snakes away from your house. Do you know anything about that?D. G., Atkinson, NH
There are various commercial snake repellents that contain supposedly noxious materials that snakes don’t like such as dried egg solids, naphthalene, cinnamon oil, or clove oil. But these repellents don’t work against all snakes and don’t seem to be effective for very long, if at all. You can also install a snake fence but that doesn’t seem very practical.
Your husband is right that snakes will kill and eat mice (and voles). However, mice are likely the reason that you have snakes in your yard in the first place. Snakes will move into an area that has a healthy rodent population. So you might be better off contacting an exterminator to get rid of your mouse problem than trying to repel the snakes.
If you Feed Birds, You Feed Mice
Mice build up in numbers outside when there is plenty of food available. Think about what you are doing that feeds mice and eliminate those food sources. The number one attraction for mice is birdseed. It seems that most suburban snake problems are in the yards of bird lovers. If you have bird feeders that spill seed onto the ground, take steps to contain or clean up the seed (See Bird Feeders Attract Birds, and Rodents…and Snakes!). Other mouse food sources are uncovered garbage cans, pet food left outside, and nuts, fruits or vegetables on the ground.
Mice also choose locations with plenty of nest sites. If you have stacks of lumber, rocks, firewood, old equipment, or miscellaneous debris, along with weedy areas, you are providing mice with protected nest sites. Snakes like these same kinds of hiding places (see Snake-proofing Your Yard).
Don’t Make Life Easy for Mice or Snakes
It comes down to this: if you provide rodents with food (chiefly birdseed), they will come. If you provide snakes with food (chiefly mice), they will come, too. Snakes also feed on insects and birds, especially nestlings, so if you are feeding birds, you not only have more mice in your yard, but you will certainly have more birds, too.
I’m sure you don’t want to give up your bird feeding, so if you can’t put up with snakes, my advice is to do what you can to eliminate the mice. Take steps to clean up potential rodent and snake nest sites in your yard, and contact a professional exterminator to control the mice.