In the past few days, I’ve been to a multiple homes to catch rattlesnakes in garages. That’s normal and right on time. Which brings up the topic: when do rattlesnakes start moving again, and what should homeowners expect?
When will rattlesnakes come back? Our predictions, based on 11 years of relocation hotline activity:
Early February (you are here): Rattlesnakes will start to “stage”, or move closer to the entrance of, their winter dens. We will start to receive calls to remove small groups of rattlesnakes from garages, storage closets, sheds, and other out-of-the-way structures. Rattlesnake removal calls will frequently be multiple animals.
Late February: Rattlesnakes will start to appear out in the open near their selected dens. Garage removals will be more common. However, there will be an increase of calls to pool pumps, courtyards, and homes with rip rap and rock pile erosion control.
Early March: Snakes will start to make short movements from dens to hunt, drink, and engage in social behavior. They will be highly visible on the surface with peak activity occurring mid-morning before returning to the den or other nearby staging area. Mating activity is high, and multiple snake removal calls will be common.
Late March: Rattlesnake sightings will become common as they leave dens entirely. Peak activity will be between 3pm and 5pm.
April: Very high rattlesnake activity and sightings will be common. At this point they have entirely left the dens and sightings are more likely to be random encounters.
If you’re a hiker or outdoorsy type, you’re still not likely to see a rattlesnake in February. Be more watchful and aware in March, however.
Now is the best time to get to any maintenance or prevention activities you have on your to-do list. Landscaping, debris removal, fixing the snake fence, having the dog trained … get it done before the snakes show up.
Rattlesnakes often den in the garage. If you are using these last mild-weather days to get to “that” side of the garage, use extra caution.
Educating yourself is the best way to stay safe and feel better about the whole situation
As with most things, fear of rattlesnakes is mostly in our heads. Not the fear itself of course, that’s a real thing, but most of what we believe about rattlesnakes as a culture is simply false. Down to the idea that they are aggressive, or territorial (in the way that people use the word) and more, most of us just haven’t had an opportunity to learn factual information.
If you fear rattlesnakes, spend an afternoon going through these resources and watch what happens 🙂
Videos of early-spring rattlesnake captures and info:
More articles about making peace with rattlesnakes this spring:
The spring emergence of rattlesnakes is a big topic with homeowners and hikers – obviously we’ve discussed this in the past quite a lot! Here are some of those articles that can help make sense of it all.
You may notice that our social media feeds are still full of rattlesnake captures and relocations, even in the coolest months of the year. Be assured: yes, rattlesnakes are hibernating (or brumating if you prefer) in the winter, roughly from November through February. However, as we’ve explained in previous winters, they can still be found from time to time on the surface.
The biggest reason you’ll still see so much from us is because we meter our content so that we don’t blow you away with 20+ posts during the summer days, and make you think we’ve disappeared during the winter. Every call is unique and interesting, with lessons and experiences that should be shared, so we space it out. That means that many of the photos you’re seeing in the winter may have been from calls we ran in October, etc.
There are of course snakes that are still active during the winter, both by their own choice, and not. We cover some of the reasons you may see one at your house during the cooler months in a previous post, named after the most common comment we see on photos of snakes found in the cooler months. “I thought they were hibernating!“
Why would rattlesnakes be active when it’s so old outside?
One of the biggest misconceptions about rattlesnake behavior is that they are driven purely by warm temperatures. While it is true that rattlesnakes, like all reptiles, are cold-blooded and depend on external forces to get warm, temperature is just one of many factors that determine whether or not they’ll become active.
Here’s a great example that happened recently. In 2020, the Phoenix area broke several records for the hottest, driest summer in recent history. When rain finally came to the valley after more than 100 days without a drop, it was on a cold December day.
With temperatures barely breaking 50˚F, why would rattlesnakes suddenly become active? Simply: they have to, or risk death. With minimal effort, I was able to find 7 Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes on the surface hoping for rain. The first was found at just 45˚F, and the last at 51˚F. Comparing field notes for the day with a couple of knowledgeable friends, who also knew to put on boots instead of sweatpants for the day, showed similar results. Rattlesnakes, even in relatively cold temperatures, were very active. When rain fell again for a brief period on Christmas day, again, it was not difficult to find a lone Western Diamondback Rattlesnake coming out for a drink.
Just because we see rattlesnakes in the winter doesn’t mean you will.
People are often surprised that we are still able to find rattlesnakes in the winter – in fact it’s probably why you’re reading this right now. If you’re not someone that wants to run into them out there, don’t worry: it’s very unlikely that you will.
Rattlesnakes that we find in the winter aren’t in the same situation that you’d find them during other, warmer periods. They’re not out moving large distances, tracking prey, looking for mates, or any of the other behaviors that most often result in an encounter. This activity is much more specific – just coming to the surface of their den, and back down again when they’ve gotten what they need. That means that if you’re hiking on a trail and not purposefully searching situations that seem likely to house rattlesnakes over the winter, you’re not likely to see them at all.
We’re happy to announce that Rattlesnake Solutions has expanded service to Yavapai county, and can handle any rattlesnake relocation that may be needed in Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Cottonwood, and Sedona (and surrounding areas).
The species found in that area add to the list of possible rattlesnake species we’ve been able to relocate in our existing service area. Soon, we’ll have some photos of Arizona Black Rattlesnakes and many more Blacktailed Rattlesnakes to add to the feed!
If you know anyone in the area that could use some help with rattlesnake prevention and snake relocation, please send them our contact information.
Rattlesnake Removal, Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Hills, and surrounding areas
Rattlesnake solutions offers completely safe, humane, all-hours to removal of unwanted reptiles from your home or business in the quad-city area. Rattlesnakes are the most common where homes meet desert habitat, and snake sightings are common almost year-round, but in the Prescott area, they’re most likely to occur from late Spring (April) through the monsoon season (September) when rattlesnakes travel to Winter dens. Pest control companies can’t help and really, most wildlife services companies may offer some snake services but don’t have the knowledge to truly do it correctly. More details about our snake removal services in the Prescott area.
Property Inspections for homes in the Prescott area
We’re not just rattlesnake removal specialists; the Rattlesnake Solutions field team is made of field herpetologists, biologists, snake researchers, and reptile lovers with thousands of hours experience tracking and capturing rattlesnakes in wild situations. Rattlesnake Solutions field team agents bring this experience to your property. You’ll learn what could be possibly attracting snakes, and how to make minor changes to reduce your chances for unwanted rattlesnake encounters.
Every monsoon season, a handful of big storms that sweep through the valley and rearrange our yards and shingles. The next day, an chainsaws and leafblowers join the sound of cicadas as the aftermath is handled.
Along with the downed trees and trash-scattered streets are rattlesnakes that have been displaced by the water and wind. After a massive storm, places where rattlesnakes may have been hiding from the heat can be flooded or destroyed. That means that these snakes have just a few hours to find new places to hide before the daytime heat kills them. That often puts them into conflict with people.
One of the places where rattlesnakes frequently live during the hottest times of year are in small caves along the edges of normally-dry washes. When these washes fill with water, rattlesnakes need to move. For home owners at the edges of these washes, that means that the rattlesnakes could be moving to the nearest dry area – your patio. Covered patios and entryways make up the majority of rattlesnake relocation situations after rainouts. They’ll also be hiding in the debris caused by the wind and flooding. Fallen trees and collections of yard debris are going to provide cool cover for these displaced snakes, and should be treated with caution when they are cleaned up.
The extra humidity also causes rattlesnakes to be more active, so they are already more likely to be hiding in temporary hiding spots, and may be more easily displaced by the big rain. Rattlesnakes are shedding their skin and heading out to hunt and drink after a long period of inactivity during the hottest and driest time of year, and that makes post-storm movement even more of a factor for home owners bordering desert areas.
What should you do to keep safe from displaced rattlesnakes?
Be alert around covered entryways and patios, especially in the corners. Rattlesnakes often use these covered areas to hide after extra-wet weather forces them to leave more preferable areas. If you have any decorations in the corners, like pots or plants, it may be good to move them out or at least create extra space between the corner and these features. Especially in the early morning, be mindful of the spots right around the front door.
If you have downed trees or yard debris that has collected after the heavy wind and rain, give it a day before cleaning it up. Be mindful while you do so of the potential for rattlesnakes to be using it as temporary shelter. Rattlesnakes may be “stuck” in situations where they need to quickly choose places to hide from the daytime heat that are not preferable, and may end up hiding in piles of branches and fallen leaves. By waiting 24 hours, you give the snakes a chance to leave if they are there during the next suitable time to do so (at night).
If you live near a wash or drainage, be especially cautious. Rattlesnakes are very common in drainages and the rain can force them to move erratically, often taking cover at the nearest available shade – your house.
Accompany dogs outside during their bathroom breaks and give the yard a quick check before allowing children to play in unprotected yards. If possible to let them out earlier in the day while it’s still hot, that may further decrease the chance of an unwanted rattlesnake encounter.
More than the monsoon – rattlesnakes may be surface active in any temperatures, any time of year.
Something that surprises many home owners each year are sightings of rattlesnakes after Winter rainfall. While it is true that rattlesnakes are largely inactive during the cooler months of the year (roughly November through February in the Phoenix area), some conditions will make them show up at any time. Heavy rain can cause similar displacement issues for rattlesnakes if it gets into places they’ve selected to spend the winter … especially if these are temporary, artificial, or new sites.
Other than displacement, rattlesnakes still need to drink in the winter time. Even in relative low temperatures for rattlesnake activity, they may come to the surface to collect rain in their coils or drink it directly from the rocks.
Here’s a video I took years ago at a small Timber Rattlesnake den, showing one of the several present rattlesnakes coming out to drink from the rocks.
If you have a rattlesnake denning on your property, you have a decent chance of seeing it sitting on the surface as the rain starts, or just after if the storm breaks to sun. What most people don’t like to learn about these situations is that the rattlesnake has almost certainly been in the area since about October, just hidden until having a reason to come out.
All in all, rain is just one of the many factors that make rattlesnakes move and be visible to people.
Once the weather warms up a bit more, rattlesnakes will begin to come out of their Winter hiding spots and our rattlesnake removal season will begin again. Time for a refresher on what to do if you see a rattlesnake, how they are removed and relocated, and how to keep snakes away.
For immediate rattlesnake removal and snake rescue:
Watch the snake from a safe distance until help arrives
Don’t approach or try and catch or kill the snake yourself.
We are available all hours of the day to catch and remove snakes from your property anywhere in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas. When you call, you’ll be asked some basic information, like your zip code and what the snake looks like, and someone will be on their way immediately.
It may be scary for you, but the snake is also scared and will try to get away if it thinks that it’s been discovered. That’s why it’s important to find a safe place to hang out and watch the snake directly until someone arrives to remove it. Often, the snake is scared to move because it may feel that its camouflage is doing the job, and to move would give it away to the “predator” (in this case, you). The moment the threat is gone, the snake will often quickly slip away to a nearby hiding area, or just leave the property entirely. I can’t stress enough how important and helpful it is to watch the snake until we get there … many snakes have escaped when the home owner figures the snake is asleep and leaves it alone.
Once help is on the way, everything else will be taken care of by us. There is no reason to approach the snake to capture or kill it. Sometimes neighbors want to help and come over after we’ve already been dispatched. Though they may think this is just the neighborly thing to do, they are just putting themselves in danger needlessly, when the situation has already been responsibly handled by you, having called a professional to safely and humanely relocate the snake.
Rattlesnake removal calls need to be answered and serviced quickly. While snakes may hang around an area for days, the most effective situation is to have the snake removed and relocated by a professional snake rescue organization immediately. We are used to being called late at night and early in the morning, so if you need to have a snake removed, don’t hesitate.
Some snakes that are removed aren’t rattlesnakes at all, or even native to Arizona or the United States. Occasionally, we will get a call for a Burmese Python or Boa Constrictor that has either escaped or been released by irresponsible owners. In these situations, we capture the snake as usual, and find homes with an experienced keeper or snake rescue organization. These snakes are never relocated to the wild after being captured – this is both for the safety of the snake and the native snakes that could possibly be infected by disease or parasites carried by the animal, among other reasons.
Sometimes there are multiple snakes to be removed …
As you watch the snake and wait for a removal expert to arrive, be aware that in some circumstances, there may be more than one snake present. During the Spring, especially, rattlesnakes are coming out of Winter den situations, and are looking to court and mate. During this time, it is much more likely to run into multiple rattlesnakes together, and to find a female of breeding age is also to find males nearby looking to mate.
During the late Summer and Fall, rattlesnakes give birth to live young. We remove all snakes together and hold them until the first shed, usually just a few days away, then release them all together to proper habitat. If you do see a rattlesnake with babies, be especially careful as the little ones move around and may not all be in the main group.
What happens to them after a snake removal?
They are released, sometimes after getting a drink of water. This is not only our preference as Arizona citizens who appreciate wildlife and want it to survive, but the rule of law according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Rattlesnakes rescues are not to be released more than 1 mile from the capture site, and it is recommended that they are released only 1/3 of a mile away. Some low cost options just move them to the edge of the property and dump them over the fence.
This means that the process of removing a rattlesnake and relocating it to a place where it will both survive and not return to the yard can be complicated. While it’s easy to just dump the snake out on the ground and be done with it, this isn’t good for the snake or the home owner.
Rattlesnakes are actually very fragile animals, and will die if their body temperature gets above about 105F-110F. Anyone that’s run out to get the mail on a Saturday in Phoenix knows the ground gets much hotter than that very quickly. Rattlesnakes need to have deep, cool cover available to them in order to survive, so snakes just moved out and left to crawl off on hot days will almost certainly not survive. Then, too, those that do could just crawl into the neighbors yard, or try and return to the area where they were before.
Rattlesnakes have a home range, and we try to relocate them to suitable habitat on the far side of that range. While it’s mostly just a guess where “home” is for a snake, we can make some pretty good assumptions based on our field research and knowing where and how to find rattlesnakes in the wild. This involves finding the nearest natural drainage or wash, and assuming the snake’s activity is in some way associated with it. In the wild, drainages can be a hub of wildlife activity, providing shelter opportunities, moisture, and generally cooler temperatures than the open desert. Using Google Earth, we estimate an appropriate area where the snake has the best chance to survive, and hike it to this spot to release it. The snake is released right into the cover area, and we never leave until we are sure the snake has crawled fully out of the sun or the reach of predators.
Here is a video of a rattlesnake release after a removal in the Phoenix area, with many more details about this process and the careful detail required to keep snakes safe and away from people.
So won’t they just come right back to the house?
It’s certainly possible, but it can be prevented. First, we try and find a location that offers everything the snake needs to survive after the ordeal of relocation. Deep caves, areas near water and hunting opportunities, and places where snakes have actually been found during scouting trips or signs of snakes are there let us know that the release point is good for rattlesnakes to live. Research on translocation of some species of rattlesnakes show that new areas can be incorporated into the home range, and the snakes don’t lose weight or die if done correctly.
The next step is to try and figure out why the snake showed up in the yard in the first place, and what can be done to correct it. Sometimes, it is very obvious … snakes need what all animals need; food, water, and shelter. Provide any of these items, and wildlife will show up to take advantage of it. We work with home owners to keep snakes out of the yard for good by identifying things that brought the snake that was removed to the home to begin with. Finally, rattlesnake fencing can be installed to create a physical barrier to remove all doubt.
What kinds of things could be attracting snakes to the yard?
That means that anything that attracts rodents will also attract snakes. Even well off-property, scent trails left by rodents can be tracked by rattlesnakes that want to eat them and end up in the yard. Many things attract rodents, too. Common situations that we have removed rattlesnakes in ambush near include outdoor dogfood storage, bird feeders, compost bins, messy garbage areas, and BBQ islands. If rodents are present, rattlesnakes have good reason to show up, too. Rattlesnake removal is always an option, but just keeping them away is best.
Finding a place to hide is an important part of a rattlesnake’s survival in the Arizona desert. Rattlesnakes removed from homes are often just using the structure for shade. Landscaping features can also play a part. A common area we are called to remove rattlesnakes from are decorative rock piles with poorly sealed concrete, near pool areas and the edges of property. Any sort of debris, too, should be cleaned up so that there are no opportunities for snakes and other wildlife to live there. Remember, even if an area isn’t good for a snake to hide in, if rodents can use it, then it is useful to a snake. Keeping your property as clean and orderly as possible will help keep it from being used by snakes. This can be difficult to control in a neighborhood, however, since not all properties are properly maintained, and just one extra-messy yard can bring rodents and snakes into all of the surrounding homes.
Water is also essential, and snakes often come into yards to have a drink when it’s freely offered to them. Swimming pools are an obvious source, but there are a lot of other common water sources. A leaky hose, bird bath, or decorative pond are all likely attractants for snakes. We’ve done hundreds of rattlesnake removals to homes with a dripping spigot. If you have any issues with the landscaping plumbing, they can attract snakes.
Rattlesnake removal is not a Do-It-Yourself activity
Even if you’ve seen someone do it or watched some YouTube videos, there is quite a bit going on during a rattlesnake removal that isn’t always obvious. There is a right way, and a dangerous way. There is no learning curve, and a mistake can land you in the hospital or worse. Of course, the snake often suffers from mishandling as well. It is simply not worth the risk to attempt rattlesnake removal without proper training.
A common thing we see are snakes that are improperly picked up with snake tongs (one tool we use to capture snakes). These tools are meant to gently grasp a snake so it can be captured and relocated. Too often, snakes are picked up in a death-grip by the tongs, in fear that that the snake could escape them. This causes the snake to thrash around in pain, causing the grip to become even tighter. They are also often picked up just behind the head and gripped as tightly as possible, again causing the snake to thrash around and injure itself. If a snake starts thrashing around with it’s mouth open when being picked up by tongs, they are being used improperly. This is of course deadly for the snake, and makes a much more dangerous situation for the person using the tools.
While some people certainly do learn to capture and remove snakes by themselves, it’s something best left to those with the experience to do it safely and ensure that the snake will survive the encounter.
Why do we charge for rattlesnake removal services?
This comes up quite often, actually. We do charge a modest fee for our snake removal services. This is, after all, the capture, handling and transport, and release of a potentially deadly pit viper. We also bring many years of experience and expertise tracking and finding rattlesnakes in the wild, and can translate this activity into your yard to see things that other snake removal services can’t. We also give back to the community by offering dozens of free educational presentations to communities and groups around the state. We feel that this is a professional service to the public that is worthy of compensation. Some day, we hope to work with cities to provide our rattlesnake removal service to the community as a public service, but in the meantime, we are a small, family-owned business.
There’s no better first post topic for our new blog, perhaps, than one highlighting the most commonly removed snake species in the city. They’re also one of the most iconic animals in the American West: The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is, as far as rattlesnakes go, a generalist. It can live in a wide variety of habitat and climates. In Arizona, this means any area where the city borders native Sonoran Desert habitat is also likely a resource for the Western Diamondback. Especially in areas North of the 101 in Scottsdale and Phoenix, where landscaping is a mix of native desert features and plants, rattlesnakes make their home.
We’ve relocated Western Diamondbacks from almost everywhere in the city at one time or another. Some of them, like those that show up in the center of the city, get there by hitchhiking in vehicles or landscaping materials. Some are intentionally captured and brought there by people that think that a rattlesnake would be a great pet, and released once they realize how wrong they were! For the most part, Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are limited to areas that come into direct contact with native desert.
How big does the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake get?
In the Phoenix area, a very large Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is about 4 feet long, with most reaching a slightly smaller adult size in the 3.5′ range. While some individuals may get into the 5′ range, it is very rare. In fact, in over a thousand rattlesnakes captured and relocated by Rattlesnake Solutions over the years, only one even got close, at an estimated 4’10”. It does happen, but to say “diamondbacks get 5′ long” is a lot like saying “an adult human is 7′ tall. It happens, but it’s not common, and generally not useful when discussing size. Things especially fall apart when a person claiming to see a 6′ diamondback also claims to see them often.
What is most likely, is that people just aren’t as great at estimating size of objects as we like to believe we are, combined with just how bad our memories actually are with remembering the details. If you want to do a simple experiment, get a 4′ (or so) stretch of rope or hose, and coil it in the bushes in the backyard. Ask someone to come out, without telling them why, and tell them to give you the size from 10′ away. If you get any answer that isn’t “how am I supposed to know, I’m not a tape measure!”, it likely won’t be anywhere near the actual size.
While there are some reports of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes getting very large (over 7′ long), this is very rare, and even more rare here in Arizona. Diamondbacks found in the Eastern part of their range in Texas tend to get larger, in-part due to having larger prey to eat, and more of it. There are also genetic differences between these populations, with Diamondbacks East of the continental divide area (about the Arizona/New Mexico border) that may make our Western, Western Diamondbacks end up on the small end. Even more confusingly, there is a completely different species, called an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, that does not live in Arizona at all, and gets larger than any other species of rattlesnake. All of this can cause some confusion when someone says, “hey, I saw a 6 foot diamondback!”, and tries to do some fact-checking on Google.
What part of the City has the most Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes?
Scottsdale 🙂 That’s an easy one. By looking at our relocation data over the years, the corridor above the 101, West to about the 51, has the highest rate of rattlesnake encounters. This isn’t just because of location – it’s more about what is there. Mostly new-ish developments, continued development, and natural landscaping contribute to wildlife encounters here. This doesn’t mean that if you live in North Scottsdale, you’re destined to meet a rattlesnake. … If your yard is within about a block of native desert habitat, however, it’s likely.
Further into the city, your odds of running into a diamondback are much lower. Even on mountains where other species of rattlesnake are fairly common, like Camelback Mountain or Mummy Mountain, diamondbacks have more or less been killed off by surrounding traffic and development.
“I’ve seen Western Diamondbacks … are those different than coontail rattlesnakes?”
This is a question we get from time to time, and no, they are the same species. Western Diamondbacks have a characteristic black and white banded tail just before the rattle. This can be used to identify them, and tell the difference between them and other species of rattlesnake.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are also a great example of some of the confusion that comes from common names given to animals. It seems that almost every place in the Western United States has something that the locals will call a “diamondback”, though in reality there is only one Western Diamondback, Crotalus atrox, which lives in the Southern half of Arizona, Southeastern California, and East into Oklahoma and Arkansas. In much of Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, locals may refer to the local “diamondbacks”, but the rattlesnakes that live there are actually Prairie Rattlesnakes or Great Basin Rattlesnakes.
They are also often mistaken for Mojave Rattlesnakes. Usually the mistaken identity is given to the diamondback, due to the Mojave’s more famous reputation for being overly ‘aggressive’.
Here are more photos of wild diamondbacks! For as common as they are, I never tire of seeing them. If you’ve seen any, tell us about it in the comments.