Snake in the Duck House! 9 Tips to Help Repel Snakes

Snakes are often the bane of the backyard chicken keeper. Lured to the coop area by the promise of an easy meal (eggs, small chicks, ducklings or sometimes bantams as well as the mice drawn to the coop), even non-venomous snakes can pose a real threat. Snakes can squeeze through the tiniest of cracks or smallest of spaces and therefore are very hard to keep out of a run or pen. After our recent run-in with a black rat snake, I revised my snake defenses and wanted to share with you.

I got quite a scare one morning this past spring when I opened the duck house to find this black rat snake inside! The poor ducks scrambled out as fast as they could, unharmed, but visibly shaken.  

~not what I expect (or want) to see when I let the ducks out in the morning~
Our setting duck and her eggs didn't fare quite as well - the snake had eaten three of the ten Silver Appleyard duck hatching eggs right out from under her. Needless to say, both I and the ducks were pretty traumatized. 

~Custard, shaken over having to share her eggs with the snake~
Generally snakes will get caught when they squeeze in through a small hole, then eat something which then makes it impossible for them to squeeze back out. In this case, it was clear the snake wasn't able to escape the duck house or pen after eating the eggs, but I was stumped as to how it got in in the first place.

~unable to escape, the snake had to wait until morning when I opened up the pen~
Our duck pen is constructed of 1/2" welded wire. All the vents in the duck house are covered with the same. I went over the house and pen with a fine-tooth comb checking for a larger hole. There was none.  A snake this size can't get through an opening that small even with an empty belly.

~1/2" welded wire on a pen or vent will keep out all but the smallest snakes and small field mice~
It wasn't until I set up my Trail Cam and did a bit of hard thinking that I realized the snake had merely slithered up the ramp and through the open front door of the duck house during the day and hidden in the straw until dark, undetected.

~the three duck eggs are clearly visible inside this snake~
~photo courtesy National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States~
According to the Audubon Society Field Guide, Black Rat Snakes are found in nearly the entire mid-Atlantic region. This is the type of snake that we primarily have to deal with. Technically the 'good guys', they eat not only mice and voles but also baby Copperheads which also live in this area.  While they will bite if provoked or cornered, they are non-venomous. They are constrictors, meaning they often will suffocate even prey that is too large to swallow and kill it in the process. They can climb and swim...and pretty much will live anywhere - in the woods, under a board, by the roadside, inside an abandoned building.

~while non-venomous, black rat snakes will bite if cornered or provoked~

One day last summer, I found a black rat snake wrapped around one of our full-grown Pekin ducks' bills, in the process of trying to wrap itself around the duck's neck to strangle it. The duck had apparently tried to eat the snake tail first as the snake tried to constrict the duck. The duck couldn't open her bill because the snake was around it and the snake couldn't get away because the duck had swallowed half of it.  Fortunately I was able to unwind the snake from the duck's bill and extricate it from the duck's mouth and each went their separate way. These snakes definitely pose a potential threat.

So, bottom line, you don't want these guys hanging around inside your run or coop/duck house. Here are some tips on making your coop area less desirable:

1.) Keep your coop mouse-free. Read HERE for tips.
2.) Collect eggs as often as you can and leave golf balls in the nests.
3.) Use the smallest gauge wire possible on all vents and your pen/run.
4.) Trim tall grasses and remove fallen logs and branches around the run where snakes can hide.
5.) Check nesting boxes and floor of coop/house before locking up at night for hiding snakes.
6.) Sprinkle sulfur/cayenne pepper around the perimeter of your run and coop or duck house.
7) Spray garlic juice, cinnamon and/or clove oil around your coop.
8) Plant wormwood, garlic or Tulbaghia violacea around your coop and run area.
9) Circle an old rubber hose, thick rope or lead line around the perimeter of your coop - according to John Wayne, a snake won't cross it.

Note: moth balls are often recommended as a snake repellent but since they are poisonous, I do NOT recommend using moth balls around your flock or other animals. It is also illegal to use them outside.

I have been implementing these steps and although we've seen snakes in the vicinity of our run, we haven't seen any actually IN the run or duck house since spring.  I think the duck house is their more desirable destination since the duck nesting boxes are floor level, so easily accessible, as opposed to the coop where the boxes are up about four feet off the ground, but to be on the safe side, I ringed everything with the sulfur mix.

~A wide swath of sulfur/cayenne to prevent snakes from entering the coop when the door is open~
~Since snakes often use mouse holes and tunnels to move around undetected, I sprinkled the sulfur mix around any mouse holes I found. I added a mint leaf or two to repel any mice~
~worried about our duckling, Ginger, in addition to the double layer of wire on the grow-out pen, I added a ring of sulfur~
Since snakes often use the tunnels that field mice and rats dig to move around, search for rodents and hide in, often your first indication that there are mice and/or snakes lurking will be small quarter-sized holes around your coop area.

Some suggest that leaving golf balls in the nesting boxes works to rid your coop of snakes. They eat the golf balls and subsequently die since they can't digest them. Since the black rat snake is beneficial in many ways, that method, or otherwise killing them should be a last resort, but sometimes if the snake keeps coming back, killing it might be your only option if you don't want to lose your eggs and chicks. An easy meal is just too much of a draw for the snakes sadly. 

So far, the sulfur seems to be working well. It's perfectly safe to use around the chickens and I merely reapply it after a heavy rain.  I also use a rake to stir up the straw on the floor and also check the nesting boxes carefully each evening before closing up the coop and duck house to ensure I don't inadvertently lock another snake INSIDE!

~an easy, safe, effective, inexpensive solution~
~sulfur along with small-gauge wire works to deter snakes~
~I admit I hate snakes, but we're trying to live in harmony~
So far so good.  Hopefully we've reached a truce of sorts. If the snake leaves us our eggs and doesn't bother our flock, we'll be perfectly happy to let it eat all the mice and baby Copperheads it wants in peace. Keeping the synergy of nature in balance is always the preferred method. I admit that even looking at these photos creeps me out because I HATE snakes, but I think I hate the thought of encountering a venomous Copperhead snake even more!

Have you had a problem with snakes? What have you tried that has worked to keep them at their distance? I would love to hear.



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  1. Lisa, we welcome black rat snakes to our coops, but we have lost ducklings and chicks to them in the past, I admit it. We feel like the snakes are getting as many mice as possible, and that helps us, because where there are chickens and ducks, there are mice. I am seeing them everywhere this summer (the snakes) but have not had a nasty encounter with one yet.

    1. Well we prefer to welcome them to the barn and pasture area, but losing eggs, chicks and ducklings to a snake is NOT something I'm willing to tolerate especially when I see evidence of field mice. So the snakes need to steer clear of our coop!

  2. We have a barn cat fortunately for mouse control, although he seems to be on strike this summer!

  3. We, too, have a barn cat. Great little mouser is he :) I have had a fear of snakes most of my life. Chickens, ducks, pheasants...dogs, horses, birds..oh my! Love them. I've participated in an animal therapy program where I was introduced to a very large, beautiful golden snake about 8 feet long and capable of smothering a human...he is a certified Therapy Snake. With the support of some of my classmates, I was able to hold this snake (with 8 other people) and admire his beauty. It is a memorable event...but I still don't like snakes to be around me or my animals, children, property. I'm just as happy to ask them to slither away and let them, and us live in peaceful coexistence.

  4. While I am glad that you didn't kill the snake, and you found a way to live with it, it still makes me

    Wow, poor little duck, how traumatic to have your eggs eaten from under you just like that.


    1. Thanks Jen. I know snakes give me the shivers too and I really wanted to let people know that just because a snake isn't venomous doesn't mean its still not a threat. Poor Custard. She's suffering a bit of PTSD I think, she's really become a bit neurotic, but who wouldn't with a snake coming in and eating your future babies? I give her credit for sticking it out and sitting until little Ginger hatched.

      Of course this is all Linus' fault. If he had taken care of the field mice in the barn, that would have removed a large portion off the snake's menu and the snake might have moved on long ago to greener pastures!

  5. Does anyone know if i can use the plastic 1/2 in mesh for snakes? to keep my ducks safe? I cant afford to pay the price for 1/2 hardware cloth. I have 1in galvanised chicken wire on top of chain link fence with a bamboo covering all around the fence for decoration. If I add the cheaper plastic fencing to their run, will snakes bite through the plastic? FYI- at night they are locked in a smaller secure coop with 1/2 hardware mesh.

    1. Sure that should work wrapped around the chain link. Remember that snakes can climb, so you probably want it to go up the sides quit high. Snakes generally don't bother grown ducks, just ducklings or eggs, but better safe than sorry!

  6. Just to float an idea out there. Predators of all kinds will ALWAYS go for the easier meal. I wonder if leaving some easily accessible sacrificial lambs in the form of some feeder mice slightly outside the area of the run might steer them away from the coop and run. Feeder mice can be purchased at any pet store very cheap and they breed like crazy or maybe a live trap inside the coop and run to catch the mice you already have and transport them outside the area. Again making for a quick easy meal. Once they eat they have no desire to enter the coop or run. A “If you can’t beat’em, join’em type of approach. Use their natural instincts against them. Just a thought.


  7. Thank you for your informative thoughts. I got learnings here.

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