DEAR JOAN: I am hoping to identify the type of snake that has moved into our backyard. It's pretty long, brown and white, and appeared to have a couple of "lumps" passing through.
I discovered it when I was moving a tarp that had blown behind my wood pile. Although it didn't seem to be a poisonous snake, it coiled as if ready to strike, so I ran off to get my camera. It was still in that position when I returned and allowed me to photograph it. After the shots were taken, it was gone.
We have lots of wonderful fat lizards already, and I wonder if it was eating them. I would rather hope it was eating invading mice or rats, but the lizards seem to have diminished in numbers lately.
DEAR BOB: Your new backyard resident is a kingsnake, completely harmless to human but rather deadly for mice, rats, birds and, alas, lizards. As I've noted before, the only venomous snake we need to be concerned with in the Bay Area is the rattlesnake.
The kingsnake is a good snake to have around. It eats a wide variety of creatures and while not completely immune, it can survive the bite of rattlesnake and will kill and eat the rattler. You can't ask much more of a snake, can you?
The kingsnake kills its prey not through venom, but through constriction. It wraps itself around its prey, and then swallows them. The lumps you noticed were probably mice or lizards.
When confronted, the kingsnake will do its best impersonation of a rattlesnake, coiling and shaking its rattleless tail.
Kingsnakes usually are out during the day, but as temperatures heat up, they become nocturnal. They go underground during the winter and go into brumation, a state something like hibernation. Basically, the snake slows its metabolism and activity in order to go long periods without eating.
DEAR JOAN: A week or so ago, I saw what appeared to be a male hooded oriole on my hummingbird feeder and today, I believe I saw the female.
We have lived here since 2008 and this is the first time I have seen these birds. My trusty field guide helped with the identification so I am pretty sure I have the right bird.
It was really strange seeing the curved beak dipping into the bird feeder. Is this their normal diet? And can I put anything else out to attract more of these birds?
Ann and Bill B.
DEAR ANN AND BILL: We have both Bullock's and hooded orioles in our area.
Orioles will eat from hummingbird feeders, but you will increase your chances of attracting these beautiful birds if you put food out especially for them.
You can use the same hummingbird nectar formula, but you should get an oriole feeder that has a larger opening. You can find these at any of the area wild bird and nature stores.
Place oriole feeders away from your regular ones.
In addition to nectar, the oriole also eats insects, mealworms, wasps, flowers and flower pieces, fruits, suet mixed with bits of fruit or peanut butter, fresh or frozen peas, and jelly.
They are partial to oranges, apples, peaches, berries and bananas, and they love grape jelly.
Cut the fruit in half and set it out. You also can put out small bowls of peas and jelly of any flavor, but don't use sugar-free.