Don't let this happen to your martins! Always use a predator guard!
(Photo: Dan Pancamo/Kathy Freeze)
Mount your guard 4 ft off the ground.
Make sure nothing is under the guard on the pole.
Stovepipe-type predator guard with screened holes on top.
Predator guard with snake netting over top.
Photo: Tiffany Anderson
Predator guards should be installed on all active bird houses, including martin houses and gourd racks. It doesn't matter if you have a guard dog that patrols your yard, or if you keep your grass mowed short, or if you mount your housing on the end of a pier. Don't be complacent; you still need a predator guard!
Stovepipe-type guards should be at least 2 ft long and at least 8 inches wide. Longer and wider is better. They should be installed so the top of the guard is at least 4 feet off the ground, but mount them as high up on the pole as you can reach. Make sure that nothing is under the guard that a snake could use as a ladder to bypass the guard, such as a winch box or pulley hardware. If your winch is under your guard, mount your guard 4 feet above the winch hardware. Wax your predator guard and make sure it has no rough protrusions on the outside of it. Will the predator guard get in the way of lowering your house or gourd rack? No problem - buy or make a removeable guard. Do not use guy wires to stabilize poles, since they can easily be climbed by snakes or raccoons. If you use a non-electric 24 inch predator guard, it's also recommended to add a fluffy wad of snake netting above the guard as seen in the photo above. Remember that snake nettting (aka bird netting as sold in Lowe's or Home Depot) is a trap. If you use it, you must be willing to monitor it daily and release any snakes that are caught in it. Other predator guard options include 4-5 ft sections of large diameter smooth PVC pipe (with the winch mounted above it) or an electric predator guard. Electric guards do not harm wildlife but will deliver an uncomfortable jolt to anything that touches them, which quickly deters predators. The higher-powered chargers made for containing livestock work better against rat snakes and their tough scales. If properly installed, they are the most effective form of guard. (You will need a backup plan in case the electric guard loses power, or if it's solar, in case it stops charging the battery. ) Plug your A/C charger into a surge protector, and mount a tattletale to the guard to alert you if the fence loses power. See photos below.
The photos below show common mistakes made with predator guards.
Winch too close to baffle. Move baffle 4 ft from winch box. (Photo: Anita H.)
Hardware under baffle created snake ladder. Move baffle higher.
Rough protrusions on outside of guard create snake ladders. (Photo: Anita H.)
Predator guard too low. Snake undeterred by dog's presence.