Thursday, July 5, 2012

Blacksnakes Love Baby Guineas, Unfortunately


I have always had a pragmatic attitude about snakes.  Blacksnakes and other non-venomous snakes keep the rodent population under control, and after all, they are part of our natural environment.  I am not scared of snakes, generally, although I don’t want one as a pet, either.  I did not mind sharing a few eggs with the blacksnakes that visited the hen house occasionally.  I expected to kill venomous snakes because of the risk they pose to people and pets, even though they are here naturally too.  I have not shared the views of my grandmothers, who broke many hoe handles chopping away at any snake they saw, that “The only good snake is a dead snake.”

My views on snakes changed last week, though, because blacksnakes find baby guineas, or keets, as tasty as they do rodents.  The keets were in the garage, I left the door up so my children could access their toys, the snake came in, and by the time I heard the racket from the guineas, it had killed three babies and had a fourth in his mouth with its fangs sunk into the helpless creature’s back.

I do not recommend my methods of snake extermination and guinea saving; although they were effective they were perhaps a bit foolhardy.  I set the two remaining guineas out onto the garage floor.  As guinea in the snake’s mouth, a gray one that my daughter had christened “Mr. Cuteypants,” looked around with panicked eyes, I grabbed the snake by its middle and shook it until it let go of Mr. Cuteypants.

I knew the snake was not poisonous; even if it did bite me I would be okay, unlike the guinea in his mouth.  The snake had another dead baby wrapped in its tail, where it had killed it through constriction, and I thought it was unlikely that the snake could release all of its constricted muscles fast enough to drop the guinea in its mouth and bite me before I escaped.  I took the box with the snake in it into the woods and killed the snake.

I have no angst over killing the snake.  Over the years of living in the country, I have had several interactions with blacksnakes, and I always try to not to harm them; I even saved one’s life by cutting it out of bird netting in which it had become entangled.  I knew this one would be back for the rest of the babies if I let it go.   

If I see another blacksnake while the guineas are small, I will probably kill it.  Blacksnakes pose no threat to adult birds, although a blacksnake killed my aunt’s neighbor’s chicken while she sat on eggs in the nest.  Hens that are “setting,” or trying to hatch eggs, enter a trancelike state where they sometimes ignore danger. 

I chased the two unharmed guineas all over the yard, finally caught them, and put them in a new box.  I found Mr. Cuteypants, and called several vets before I found out that all I could do for him was clean the wound and put some Neosporin on it.  He had mild bleeding that scabbed over quickly, and seemed perfectly fine, much better than I would be if I had had snake fangs embedded in my back.

As I write this, a week later, Mr. Cuteypants shows no sign of infection from his snakebite, and is as active as the other guineas.  My husband is finishing construction of a snake-proof guinea house, and we will move them out there soon.  The three remaining guineas have spent their days on the screened porch, where they are safe from snakes, and they spend their nights inside the house.  I hope they will soon grow into independent adult birds that patrol my garden to eliminate bothersome insects.

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