There a seems to be a rat problem in my neighbourhood. It is often the topic of conversation in local social media groups. Feeding the ducks at the local lake does not help but – do bird feeders attract rats? If so, how can I stop attracting rats to my bird feeders?
Bird feeders attract rats, especially the easily available seed and other discarded bird food at ground level. Stop attracting rats to bird feeders by:
- stop feeding the birds
- make your garden less rat friendly
- use a baffle
- use the correct feeders for the seed type
- change the location of your feeder (away from easy access)
- use a ‘no-mess’ bird seed mix
- use seed that rodents don’t like
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.
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.
Will Rats Leave My Garden After Stopping Bird Feeding?
Rats will leave your garden after you stop feeding the birds but they will return as soon as any source of food is reintroduced.
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.
I have had rats appearing over the past year or two, each time I put out my bird feeders. The holes appear under the fence line and I know they have found us! Right now it is early summer and I have decided to remove my feeders for a while, until the birds really need them.
Guess what… no more rats partying in my garden at night. The problem remains that my neighbours also have bird feeders so rats may use my garden as, well – a rat run!
Here is what I captured on my wildlife cam recently before the feeders were removed.
How To Stop Rats Eating Bird Food : 7 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.
How can we feed the birds without attracting rats? Here are 5 things you can try to redress the balance.
1. Stop Feeding Birds For A Few Weeks
As already mentioned, the easiest way of seeing less rats in your garden is to remove all sources of bird food. This method goes against everything we want to do as birders or 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… but their return is almost inevitable if they live in your area.
2. 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. They may still visit but at least if they are not permanent residents you are in with a chance of seeing them less. Close up any easy entry points to your garden – under fences, between plants. Run something around the base of the shed to prevent rats getting under there and taking shelter. 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.
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.
3. 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)?.
4. Stop Using Incorrect Seed Or 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.
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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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Use Bird Seed That 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 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.
Rat Proofing 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 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. 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 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 – 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.
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!