Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

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Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4334
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

Postby Steve Kroenke » Sun Jul 14, 2019 12:41 pm

Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

This morning, July 14, 2019 I checked the bottoms of all my purple martin poles like I do every morning and saw the familiar shape of a rat snake hopelessly entangled in one of my net traps. Thank goodness for net traps! It was about a four foot long black rat snake and the ¾ inch netting really had him caught and he would have never been able to continue his journey up the pole to eat some martins.

We have eliminated many rat snakes over the years from our yards, mine and my next door neighbor, Bob and so fewer are being caught now. Rat snakes not only destroy martin colonies but they also are “death on” any songbirds’ nest they find. Since removing rat snakes from our yards, mockingbirds, cardinals and other songbirds are now having a better success in raising young.

I have dealt with rat snakes for over 50 years at my last homes in north Florida and now in northwest Louisiana. I have NEVER seen a rat snake eating a rat but have seen them eating many birds. At my last address in Florida, my yard was INFESTED with gray rat snakes and corn snakes (red rat snake). The belly crawlers destroyed the nests of nearly EVERY mockingbird, cardinal, brown thrasher, and other open nesters in my yard each season! They would have destroyed my martin colony and the nests of Eastern bluebirds, Carolina chickadees, great crested flycatchers, and red-bellied woodpeckers but my net traps saved the day! Belly crawlers were on the rampage! I propose we rename them rat and songbird snake!

We don’t kill the rat snakes caught in our net traps and relocate them far away from our martin colonies and in pastures. Maybe, just maybe they will then eat “the occasional rat”!

Here is a photo of the rat snake caught in my thick and fluffed out net trap made from ¾ inch bird netting.

PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season

Posts: 116
Joined: Sat Feb 10, 2018 2:43 pm
Location: Raceland, Louisiana

Re: Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

Postby brent » Sun Jul 14, 2019 7:41 pm

Oh wow. Do you have a pole guard to prevent predators? Just wondering if in the future I need to put netting around my post. I already have pole guards and wonder if I should put the netting.


Posts: 2752
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 8:49 am
Location: Indiana/Henry Co.

Re: Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

Postby flyin-lowe » Sun Jul 14, 2019 8:45 pm

Most commercial made pole guards are not enough to stop rat snakes. They are excellent climbers. Living where you do I would put some netting above your predator guard, unless you have some type of homemade guard that is bigger then a standard guard.
2020 (HOSP Count 2)
2019- 31 Pair over 100 fledged
2018- 15 pair last count 49 fledged
2017 3 SY pair nested, 12 eggs total, fledged 10. 4 additional SY's stayed all summer but never paired/nested.
2016 1 pair fledged 4
2015 Visitors
2014 Visitors
2013 Moved 6 miles away, 1 pair fledged 2.
2012 30 pair fledged 100.
2011 12 pair (11 that nested), 43 fledged.
2010 5 pair, 21 eggs, 16 hatched, 14 fledged.

Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4334
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Re: Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

Postby Steve Kroenke » Sun Jul 14, 2019 9:43 pm


The number one terrestrial predator of purple martins in the Deep South, like Louisiana, is the rat snake. Many unprotected martin colonies are destroyed or harmed by rat snakes each year. So my predator guard is the net trap to prevent these predators from climbing the poles and eating the martins. I have had martins for over 50 years and the ONLY terrestrial predator that has been a problem for my colonies has been the rat snake. Other folks may have had different predator experiences or concerns and they use other guards such as cylinder/stovepipe guards, cones and electric shocking systems. All can work.

The cylinder metal guards may not prevent large rat snakes from climbing poles and there have been some recent photos on Facebook showing rat snakes climbing around metal cylinder guards and then getting caught in net traps above the guards.

Unprotected metal may weatherize over time and develop a rough surface. Rat snakes can go right up this surface. Also some commercial metal cylinder guards have seams where the halves come together. These seams can sometimes allow rat snakes to go straight up them. You can wax the metal and store the guards out of the weather during the off season. Placing strips of tape over the seams may help to prevent rat snakes from climbing up the seams.

I would recommend you place a net trap above any guard you have on your poles just in case a huge rat snake decides to try to climb the poles one dark night! Many rat snakes hunt at night or during the early morning darkness.

The rat snake has an organ in the roof of its mouth called the Jacobson's organ. The rat snake flicks out his tongue to pick up possible scent molecules of prey. The Jacobson's organ allows the snake to "smell" prey and find the prey. I am amazed at how far rat snakes can pick up of the scent of martins high up in the air in their nests!

I have caught many rat snakes in net traps in north Florida where I previously and not as many at my current location in northwest Louisiana.
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season

Doug Martin - PA
Posts: 1901
Joined: Thu Mar 25, 2004 10:47 am
Location: Pennsylvania/Fombell
Martin Colony History: First pair in 2009 after 28 years of trying. 3 pairs 2010, 17 pairs 2011 and 35-45 pairs since. Many additional colonies are now springing up around mine in an area once completely void of Martins. I offer 50 compartments at my site consisting of primarily Excluder II gourds on Gemini racks. Also a wooden T-14. I utilize electric fence type predator guards on the base of the poles. Supplemental feeding is crucial in maintaining my colony. I platform feed throughout the season as needed. My site tends to be a stop over point for additional birds as they migrate further north.

Re: Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

Postby Doug Martin - PA » Sun Jul 14, 2019 11:00 pm

Nice catch Steve!
Supplemental feeding plays a major role in western Pennsylvania. Finally got my 1st pair in 2009 after 28 years of effort. 3 pairs in 2010. 17 pairs in 2011. 35 pairs and 150 young in 2012 & 2013. Plus a new 22 pair colony right down the road from me.

Black Jack
Posts: 38
Joined: Mon May 06, 2019 4:37 pm
Location: NC

Re: Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

Postby Black Jack » Mon Jul 15, 2019 7:07 am

I get rid of them every time I encounter one. Matter of fact I just killed 1 this morning up my magnolia tree. No sense in releasing them they will just go about consuming more song birds not rats. :mrgreen:

ken buker
Posts: 70
Joined: Thu Nov 20, 2003 9:51 pm
Location: Washington/Silver Lake
Martin Colony History: Started backyard colony at Silver lake in June 2004 with single pair of SY martins. Built a nest, no eggs, they left by late July. Returned 2005 and colony grew to three pair successfully raising and fledging 15 healthy young. In 2018 this colony was 110 pair strong and thriving. Managed a small colony along the lower Columbia river west of Longview, WA for a few years prior to starting my colony at Silver Lake.

Re: Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

Postby ken buker » Thu Jul 25, 2019 11:42 am

Steve, I have always admired and enjoyed your post on the forum.
Fortunately here in Washington state we don't deal with rat snakes or any other snake that climbs poles so no netting required.
I do use predator guards on all my racks to detour ground predators like squirrels, racoons, and the like.
I also have incorporated owl protection for all my cavities since 2006, after following advice from you and others, and reading a number of your
post regarding owls. In 2006 my 13 cavity colony was nearly devastated by an owl.

After 30 years trying to attract martins, my colony started with a single pair of SY birds in 2004. They arrived late June, built a nest but didn't lay any eggs. They stayed around until late July but then moved on. I doubted they would return, but the following year a mature ASY male arrived early April and my land-lording experience began.

The 2018 and 2019 season has hosted 110 + pair of nesting martins at my backyard colony at Silver Lake, Washington.
For the last few years we have banded over 300+ young martins annually from my colony.

I have attempted to reach out a couple times for your expert advice on varying issues, but not sure how to contact you.
If there is any chance you might contact me through my personal email I would greatly appreciated.

Ken Buker, a Washington state martin landlord.

stan kostka
Posts: 144
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 7:59 pm
Location: Washington, Seattle

Re: Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

Postby stan kostka » Thu Jul 25, 2019 4:31 pm

Hi Ken,
Sure was a nice surprise seeing your post. I've been wondering how things are going for you this year, glad to hear the good news.

I checked nests on the north end of Camano Island day before yesterday and there are more pairs there than any year since the colony started in 2000. It's been at full occupancy the past couple years, and this year an ASY pair decided to use a piling cavity that martins have never used before at this site. Also, several fledglings were out and about. That's the first time in twenty years martin have fledged here before the end of July.

Hope all goes well through the season.


Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4334
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Re: Early Morning Surprise In One Of My Net Traps

Postby Steve Kroenke » Fri Jul 26, 2019 5:39 am

Hey Ken,

Thank you for commenting and sharing that good news about your purple martin colony in Washington! You must have one of the largest personal martin colonies out West! Your colony appears to be thriving and protecting the martins from predators by using appropriate guards is essential.

I know it is a challenge to attract martins to gourds/houses out West since many martins still nest in natural cavities in that area but you have succeeded and are raising MANY babies each season. Hopefully many of those surviving youngsters are spreading out as SYs and are perhaps seeding new colonies as well as expanding your own colony.

I am pleased my posts on the Forum have been helpful to you. I also post on the PMCA's Facebook page where it is easier to share photos.

Feel free to contact me by personal email. My email address is: steve1950@hughes.net

I wish you continued great success with your martin colony out West and please keep us posted on how things are going!


Hey Stan,

Thank you for sharing the news about the martin colony you check on. You are reporting great news too about martins out West! It is not often we hear about martins nesting in human supplied housing out West but that is now changing thanks to the efforts of folks like you and Ken.

I wish you continued great success with the martins!

PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season

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