Something a lot of back garden birders experience is rats. While fascinating to many, they are a menace to most. Rats can damage property, spread disease are hard to completely eradicate. Just as annoying, is that they steal bird food from our feeders. Do bird feeders attract rats? If so, how can I stop attracting rats to my bird feeders?
To stop attracting rats to bird feeders, focus on their food source. Prevent bird seed falling to the ground below by using a seed catcher, only use a good quality ‘no mess’ bird seed that birds will eat instead of dropping. On a pole, a baffle will stop rats climbing up to your feeders.
Does Feeding Birds Cause Rats?
Feeding birds does not in itself attract rats, it is seed or food that falls to the floor that the rats seek out. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether you are feeding birds or leaving pet food out, the rats will be interested.
A rat can easily climb up to a bird feeder but why waste the energy if they have easy food at ground level? There are products available, as well as homemade solutions to help prevent this.
The most common thing to try is to prevent is seed falling from a feeder in the first place then use a baffle or similar method to prevent rats from climbing up the feeders above.
How To Stop Rats Eating Bird Food : 10 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 and is seed dropped by the birds.
Here are 10 ways to stop rats stealing bird food and making your garden their home.
Stop Feeding Birds For a While
The easiest way of stopping rats stealing your bird seed is to remove all sources of bird food in your garden. This goes against everything we want to do as birders and bird feeding enthusiasts. Why can’t we feed the birds without rats getting involved? Unfortunately, the two go hand in hand.
If you can bear to remove your feeders for a short while, it may just do the trick and the rats move on. I have had a rat problem this year and I removed my bird feeders from the garden. Unfortunately, we still see the odd rat, although I have never seen one actually on a bird feeder. Being surrounded by other bird feeding neighbours, my efforts are currently pointless.
Make Your Garden Less Rat Friendly
Rats like to hide out in dark corners, under sheds or in holes near to those places. Making your garden as clean and exposed as possible will help to deter rats from living there. Cutting back established hedges or bushes will definitely help. Keep your garden clear of leaves or other debris that can build up, proving a cosy place for rodents to nest.
Block gaps under sheds or out buildings to prevent rats getting underneath. I found a rat nesting under my shed just last week. I ordered this rodent proofing wire mesh from Amazon and it works really well. I have attached it to the base of my shed using a staple gun and the rat cannot get through. The mesh is flexible and can be moulded around corners. I plan to do the fence line next, as this is where they get into my garden.
Check for holes in building walls; plastic air bricks are easy for a rat to gnaw through, have them replaced with stone ones if possible. A tip from a pest control officer working for our local council – if you cannot or do not wish to permanently fill gaps in walls, plug them with metal stainless steel scourers, like these ones. Rats will not chew through these like other soft material you might have considered for the job, like sponge or paper.
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Use a Baffle
Baffles are usually used in relation to squirrels but they are very successful against most rodents, rats included. A baffle sits part way up a bird feeding pole, preventing a rat or squirrel climbing up to the feeders. Some baffles are designed to hang over a bird feeder, if used in a tree for example, preventing a rodent from reaching bird food from above. I have used both squirrel-proof feeders and a baffle. The baffle has been the absolute winner in the fight against rodents. See this post for more information on baffles – Are Squirrel Baffles Effective (and how do baffles keep squirrels away)?.
Using The Correct Seed and Feeders
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. If you use smaller seed like niger seed, don’t use a feeder with large feeding ports. As you can see, the seed either falls to the ground as rodent food, or collects around the outside of the feeder making a mess.
If you want to feed niger seed to your birds a feeder with small slits or holes will be best. Something like this Gardman Steel Nyger Seed Feeder, or the slightly cheaper Flip Top Nyger Seed Feeder are perfect. The holes are just the right size for the seed to be accessed but 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. Find out more here – Working Out Which Type Of Bird Feeder To Use.
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.
Avoid Seed Husks and Choose a ‘No-Mess’ 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. This post explains more about why birds do this. – Why Do Birds Throw Seed Out Of The Feeder?
Use a quality seed mix with less ‘filler’.
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.
There are many brands of ‘no-mess’ bird seed around but some are not as good as they have you think. Some of the best bird seed I have used is from Vine House Farm. The difference in bird activity when using their food was very noticeable. The other online retailer I use is CJ Wildlife. See their range and check their latest prices here.
Use Bird Seed That Rats Won’t Eat
Something I have had a little success with, mainly for squirrels, is using cayenne pepper or chilli flakes in my bird seed. Birds don’t have many taste buds, compared to other mammals/ animals and will not be put off or harmed by the hot stuff. So, a good tip to stop rats and other pests eating your bird seed, is to use a hot pepper mixed with your bird seed. There is good evidence to show that mixing cayenne pepper or hot chilli flakes with bird seed deters rats and squirrels.
If squirrels are a problem for you, or you want to find out more, see my post about Using Cayenne Pepper In Bird Seed. You can buy bird seed with cayenne pepper already added. It 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.
Store Bird Seed Correctly
Rats and mice will seek out an easy meal and even better a source they can return to again and again. It is so important that you store your bird seed safely and correctly to prevent rodents getting to it. Use a plastic box rather than a cardboard box, whether you are storing bird seed indoors or outdoors. Firstly this may go some way to preventing rats smelling the seed. It will also help to prevent rats from chewing through to the seed.
When storing bird seed in a strong container, use a lid. Then put something heavy on top of the lid – at least heavy enough that a rat cannot dislodge it. This will stop easy access from above if all else fails.
Secure your Perimeter
Check your fence line (if you have a fence) for obvious access points for rats. A good wooden fence will usually have what is called a gravel board under it – a length of either wood or concrete that a fence sits upon, which protect from moisture damage form the wet ground, as well as from debris and insect damage. A gravel board will also reduce the likelihood of gaps under the fence.
This is not always successful when it comes to rats though. I have concrete gravel boards and the rats still dig under them. So, do your best to block any holes that appear with bricks, large pebbles or decorative rocks (more soil will not stop them!). Also consider using a rodent proof wire mesh along your garden perimeter. You can sink this into the ground at the based of the fence and rats cannot dig or chew through it.
Get a Cat
Not sure I need to explain this one; I just needed to make up the 10 tips! Seriously though, households with cats are less likely to see rats in their gardens, for obvious reasons. I have never owned a cat and do not plan on ever getting one. However, I have heard they are good rat catchers. So much so, owners are regularly rewarded with half dead ones on the kitchen floor. Cats are also good at scaring birds, so there is a bit of a balancing act and a conflict of interests.
Good Garden Hygiene is Also Key
Don’t leave any scraps of food on the ground after a family BBQ. Brush away and tidy up any discarded bird food under your feeders. Don’t overfill your feeders in the first place. Keep bins and bin areas secure and inaccessible to rodents. Do not leave pet food out in the garden, especially overnight.
Using Rat Traps or Poison
There are many products available that will either trap rats, for you to dispose of yourself (yuck!), or poison them with a slow painful death. Many people are not a fan of using poisons, as family pets or other wildlife could also be harmed.
There is also the other question of where do they go to die? If you have rats nesting or living in our near your home, a dead one trapped in a cavity somewhere is going to get a bit ripe, especially in the hot summer months!
Rat traps and poisons can work quite well but they are not for everybody.
Will Rats Leave My Garden After I Stop Feeding Birds?
Rats may leave your garden after you stop feeding the birds but they will return as soon as any source of food is reintroduced. They may also use your garden as a run between other gardens. Unfortunately, if your neighbours also feed the birds, rat may still use your garden en-route, or as a nesting location if you do not follow my 10 tips.
It is really tricky to find a balance between feeding the wild birds and deterring rats. For me, it spoils the enjoyment; knowing these disease-ridden pests are lurking around in my garden (I really don’t like rats).
It is a shame to say that the only sure-fire way to rid your garden of rats is to remove all sources of food they might find, including bird food. Unless they are nesting under a shed or elsewhere in your garden, rats will simply go and target areas with easy pickings.
Here is what I captured on my wildlife cam recently before the feeders were removed.
Ways to Rat Proof Your Bird Feeder
It is inevitable – if you put food out for the birds, others will be attracted. Until recently 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 effective method to prevent rats coming to bird feeders is to remove the food source. What this means is, remove the feeders or at least 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. Why Do Birds Throw Seed Out Of The Feeder?
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 homemade idea.
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 – use a baffle device.
For a truly rat proof bird feeder pole use a baffle, often called a squirrel 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. Here is a range of squirrel proof feeding options, which also work for rats. You can find out more on how to use a baffle in my other post – Are Squirrel Baffles Effective (and how do baffles keep squirrels away)?
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, or above a feeder. The idea is that a rat or squirrel 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 rodent to climb round as there is nothing to grip on to and the rodent 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!