In my neighbourhood there is a massive rat problem. The area has become known for its rat population but this is causing me concern. Do bird feeders attract rats? I like to feed the birds but I don’t want to add to the problem.
I am sad to say that bird feeders do attract rats. Seed and other types of bird food discarded on the ground make for an irresistible, easy source of food for rats. They are more likely to take advantage of the easy pickings on the ground but they can easily climb a bird feeder if they choose. There are some easy ways you can help prevent rats from frequenting your bird feeders. Read on to find out more.
Does Feeding Birds Cause Rats?
Feeding birds does not in itself attract rats, it is more the case that certain ways of feeding birds attracts rats. It is also the case that certain types of food will attract rats. The most common thing we can try to prevent is seed falling from a feeder and settling on the ground. There are products available, as well as home made solutions to help prevent this. I will cover this further down the page if you want to skip the next bit.
My Personal Experience
A few years ago I put up my first bird feeder in the back garden (pole feeding station). Around that time we also started hearing noises in the attic above our bedroom in the mornings. We had the ‘rat man’ out who laid traps and investigated further but no rat was ever found. I was not convinced that the noises were rat related so, against the best advice, the feeder stayed.
Over the coming weeks I watched the birds coming and going, bought a spotting scope and started to take photos. Unfortunately, I also began to notice small holes in the earth under our fence line – RATS!
My neighbours were telling me about how they had seen rats in their gardens but I had never seen one in ours – ever. I even set up an old mobile phone as a motion detecting camera (a great way of recording bird feeder activity by the way). Months went by and there were more holes under the fence and one day, there it was – a flippin’ great rat, right under the bird feeder munching on seed that had dropped to the ground.
I had refused to believe the rats would come but I had to concede the addition of a bird feeder in our garden had been the main catalyst to the extra visits.
Will Rats Leave A Garden After Stopping Bird Feeding?
Not wanting to have rats in the secure confines of our garden, I moved the feeder to the front garden. At least then any rats would be in the open and not digging under my fence or coming too close to our house.
I monitored the back garden over the coming weeks with my mobile phone camera and watched closely the feeder with my home security camera. Sure enough a rat was seen at the feeder a few times but, interestingly there were no more rats in the back garden after the feeder was removed.
My experience tells me that rats are attracted to the area where a bird feeder is placed and the likelihood of them returning after a feeder is removed can be significantly less. Of course, it is not only bird feeders and the associated seed that rats will come for; bins, lazily discarded food waste and other things we take for granted will keep them coming.
Since filling the holes under the back fence, none have reappeared since the feeder went to the front.
How To Stop Rats Eating Bird Food : 5 Tips To Try
As I mentioned before, the easiest and most common way a rat will get to bird food is to eat it from the ground. This is usually directly underneath the feeder itself. The reason is because seed drops from the feeder or seed is dropped by a bird. Here are 5 things you can try to redress the balance.
Incorrect Seed Or Feeder
A main cause of seed appearing on the ground around a bird feeder is the feeder allowing seed to fall out. There are specific types of feeder for certain types of seed.
For example, if you want to feed niger seed to your birds a feeder with small slits in will be best. The slits are not large enough for seed to freely fall from the feeder, even when it is knocked or tipped. Birds that like niger seed include Goldfinches and Blue Tits. They have beaks that can easily peck through a small slit to get to the seed.
A popular favourite among many birds is the black sunflower seed. Unfortunately they can be messy and I have stopped using these for this very reason.
The problem is the husk, which birds do not eat and have to peck off to get to the edible content inside. The husk falls to the ground and leaves a noticeable mess. Maybe choose an alternative seed type.
Move The Feeder Away From Branches
If you are getting rats on your bird feeder they may not have to climb the pole to get there. If your feeder is near a tree branch or other place a rat can jump from, move the feeder away. By doing this you are eliminating at least one way a rat can access your feeder.
No Mess, Quality Seed Mix
Cheaper bird seed can contain a lot of rubbish to fill it out. Birds won’t eat the crappy content included in many cheap products. I found this out when I went to Home Bargains for my seed and save a couple of pounds. The result was that no birds ate the seed. I changed back to my regular seed and the birds returned.
The point I want to make here is that when birds pick out the rubbish in the seed mix they will just through it away and it will fall to the ground, ready to be found by a rat. Use high quality, no mess seed mix in your feeders. If you do, birds will eat up every single bit and not waste any. There will be less mess on the ground and less temptation for a rat.
Bird Seed Rats Won’t Eat
Something I just found out while researching for this post is that birds don’t have many taste buds, compared to other mammals/ animals. A good tip to stop rats and other pests eating your bird seed, is to use a hot pepper mixed with bird seed.
There are guides out there that recommend cayenne pepper. Premixed seed with cayenne, or similar, is not much more expensive than regular seed. Alternatively, you can experiment by mixing your own seed with a sufficient amount of cayenne. Birds will not be affected by cayenne pepper but rodents will find it so hot, they may just decide not to come back.
Rat Proofing Your Bird Feeder
It is inevitable – if you put food out for the birds, others will be attracted. I have been fairly lucky not to have been overrun by squirrels and rats at my feeders but, depending on where you live you might see rats more frequently. You may not be able to stop them from coming but here are a few ideas on how to prevent rats getting to your bird food.
Catch Fallen Seed
The first and most simple way to prevent rats in the first place is to remove the temptation. What I actually mean is, remove or stop the seed from feeders falling to the ground. If there is an easy option that doesn’t involve climbing and working hard for food, a rat will take that easy option. You could either go outside and clear up any mess a few times a day, or attach something underneath your feeders.
You don’t have to spend loads of cash doing this; there are many creative ways in which you can remove this part of the equation. Here is one I like from YouTube.
Stop Rats Climbing A Bird Feeder Pole
Rats are good climbers and can get almost anywhere. There is such a simple way you can stop them from climbing up a bird feeder pole, or bird table support.
For a truly rat proof bird feeder pole use a baffle. A baffle is something that stops a rodent from climbing up a pole to a feeder. There are two main types – a tubular baffle and a dome shaped baffle.
The tubular version looks like a length of drain pipe around the pole. In fact, a length of drain pipe around a feeder pole would work, as long as the pipe is smooth and slippery. A rat or squirrel cannot grip the outside of the tube and so cannot climb up any higher. As the top of the tube is closed off, the intruder cannot go inside the tube either.
A dome baffle resembles an upside down bowl half way up the pole. The idea is that a rat will get so far up the pole and meet the inner part of the baffle. Due to its shape the baffle is difficult for a rat to climb round as there is nothing to grip on to and the rat will either fall down or give up.
Homemade Bird Feeder Baffles
You can buy purpose made baffles from a few pounds to £20, or you can just make your own if you are creative. Everyday materials found in hardware stores can be adapted to make a simple baffle. They may not improve the look of your feeder but they are effective.
This YouTube clip shows how easy it is to make a baffle and shows how effective they can be against a persistent squirrel.
Rats are a pest in most situations, unless they are kept as pets by loving owners. FACT – if you feed birds in your garden, you a likely to be feeding rats too.
There are things we can do to prevent rats getting to our bird seed; using baffles or getting creative with rat proof upgrades to feeders, for example. You don’t have to spend a fortune on this, homemade is just as good and will save you money.
The type of seed and the type of feeder you use are also important. If you use the wrong feeder for a smaller seed, it will just fall out all over the ground when the feeder is knocked or tipped. Use a catch tray of some kind under a feeder to catch debris and stop it from collecting on the ground below. Finally, consider adding a hot pepper to your seed mix. The birds will not notice but the rats will hate it!