How To Stop Bird Feeders From Attracting Rats

by | Jan 11, 2021 | Pest, Pollinators, Rodent Control

Need to stop bird feeders from attracting rats? Putting bird seeds outside is certain to attract adorable songbird visitors. But it can also cause problems with rats in the garden. This article will explore why you might be noticing rodents at your feeders and what you can do to get birds at home, but not rats.

How Do I Keep Rats Away from Bird Feeders

If you notice bird feeders attracting rats, start by trying these tricks:

  • Select a feeder with a wide bottom tray to catch dropped seed. This should help prevent rats from easily hoarding lots of seed back at their nests.
  • Do not place seed directly on the ground.
  • Reduce feed amounts and refill more often to prevent spillage which could otherwise be consumed nightly by rats.
  • Suet and other caged or rodent/squirrel deterring designs may also help reduce dropped seed becoming part of a neighborhood Norway rat hoard.

Plant Native Shrubs & Trees

The best way to stop bird feeders attracting rats is to supplement bird feeders with native plants. Native shrubs & trees provide the natural habitat, insects, nectar, seeds, and nutrition birds crave. 

With a balanced diet, and a balanced ecosystem, you’ll save money on bird seed. And there will be less bird feed dropped on the ground for greedy rats to hoard in their nest.

 

Portland Rat Control.   

If after limiting feed you are still noticing rats, try taking your bird feeders down for 60 days. This should disrupt the rats’ reproductive cycle and force them away.

Unfortunately, rats cannot be kept out of your backyard. They will burrow under fences or climb over them. They chew through wood, earth, and even concrete.

And sadly, repellents aren’t really effective on rats unless used a certain way.

Urban rats are adapted to live around and even eat chili powder, garlic oil, peppermint, dog poop and just about any other foul scents. 

Basically, we should expect that if bird seed is dropped outside, rats will eventually find and use it.

Why Do Bird Feeders Attract Rats?

Seeds contain perfectly proportioned packets of fats, carbohydrates, protein and nutrients. Nature designed seeds to give the plant everything needed to germinate and survive.

High-density nutrient sources cause urban rats to thrive. If rodent thieves’ are allowed consistent access to fattening foods they will set up a nest nearby.

Yes, that’s right, if your bird feeders drop seed, you could have reproducing rats.

Infographic showing rats nesting & storing food in burrows under a neighborhood bird feeder

Hoarders

Norway rats can create their own hiding places by digging large burrow networks. Oftentimes these sub-surface burrows originate from cracks or breaks in city sewer mains.

Rat burrows have chambers for nesting & food storage — as pictured above. While you’re sleeping, rats steal & hoard large amounts of bird seed in their nests underground.

How to Stop Rats Eating Birdseed

Rats only need about 8 weeks to reproduce (5 weeks to sexually mature & 3 weeks gestation). Then they have a litter of 8-12 babies, more if conditions are favorable.

So this means a local rat population can increase tenfold every two months if high protein nourishment is consistently available to them.

So, to stop rats from eating bird seed, we must prevent them from having hungry babies who will go on to eat the seed.

Will My Cat Stop Rats?

In nature, snakes, coyotes, weasels, owls, hawks, and even raccoons hunt rats. However in Portland and other cities natural predators do not provide economically significant rat control services. Rats thrive in our human habitats, but natural rodent predators do not.

Rats take refuge and nest in small crevices inside & around human habitat. Cats simply cannot access rat nesting areas to provide the rat control we’re looking for.

Dogs & cats that are natural hunters may kill off a few rats while they look for food. However it is clear if our pets provided enough pest control services, there wouldn’t be such a persistent issue with urban rats.

Attracting Birds Without Feeders

Rats have the ability to put us in a scary situation since they are a known disease vector. They are physically destructive of homes, cars, and wiring. And they reproduce so fast. In Portland eco-friendly rat control is a hot topic. Here are some tips and tricks for bringing birds to your home without feeding pesky rodent freeloaders:

1. Add a Bird Bath

Water is essential for songbirds to drink and wash themselves. You can attract thirsty birds by providing a clean water source. Visitors may otherwise not have access to it, especially in the hottest smokiest months of summer. Baths should be about one to three inches deep, with gently sloped sides. Terra cotta, stone or another roughly textured material will help the bird hop up and down.

Do Bird Baths Attract Rats?

No. Typically there is plenty of water outside for rats. And most of their required moisture is obtained from foods they eat. If you see a rat drinking from your bird bath, likely it was already living nearby.

Placing a bird bath will help attract the birds and wildlife you want. But it won’t necessarily attract rats like feeders do.

It can be a fun, easy family project to craft a beautiful bird bath. Get creative. Make a base by lashing together strong tree limbs or stacking bricks & masonry. The dish can be removable for ease of cleaning.

Eco Friendly Bird Bath Tips:

Clean your bird bath regularly, as often as once a week. This helps keep the water clear and free of toxic mold, algae, fungi, slime and other contaminants like salmonella.

Remember to place any bird baths about ten feet away from any low-lying vegetation. Importantly this will prevent deadly cats from stalking and killing happily bathing songbirds.

2. Native Plants Attract Birds Amazingly

If your goal is to bring birds to your yard, absolutely plant native plants. This one’s huge for so many reasons.

Our most handsome and specialized songbirds evolved alongside our native trees and shrubs that make the Northwest so beautiful. Bringing their natural habitat into your yard is a surefire way to attract more fun & rare native bird species.

Which Oregon Native Plants Attract Birds? (But Not Rats)

Oregon grape, douglas spirea, red stem ceanothus, snowberry, mock orange, red flowering currant, blue elderberry are some handsome native landscaping shrubs.

And they provide excellent food and shelter for birds and pollinators without attracting rats. Ask your local native plant nursery which shrubs look good and are great for birds. In fact, this incredible native plant guide from Bosky Dell Natives even shows in detail which birds prefer which shrubs in the Portland Oregon area.

Remember, native plants provide birds the exact right nutrients, at the exact right time of year. Local bird species know our native plants, and will actively seek them for shelter and food

Best of all, they do not create hiding places for rats like exotic evergreen ornamnetal plants do.

If you’re interested in guidance, call us for an Urban Wildlife Habitat Inspection.

3. Research a Nest Box

A nest box or bird house can be a great way to get around bird feeders attracting rats. Before installing a nest box, think of what bird species you’d like to live there. If you’re a birdwatcher, perhaps you have a few favorite species.

Personally I love to go to a wetland for birding. Listening to and watch red-winged blackbirds, killdeer, barn swallows, herons, egrets, various ducks, gulls, osprey and bald eagles and water fowl is my favorite. Other folks enjoy tiny little house finches, yellow finches, grosbeaks, warblers, nuthatches, or chunkier crows and scrub jays.

Homeowners with premium habitat may enjoy watching cedar waxwings, varied thrush, spotted towhee or other less common backyard visitors. 

Either way do some research on box size and style, entry hole diameter, hanging height, and general habitat for your favorite bird species. You may also delight in studying these bird species ecologically.

Enjoy researching what native shrubs and trees they typically favored. Consider planting a designated habitat plant to attract your favorite birds without encouraging rats. 

Maintaining Backyard Habitat

Leaving piles of sticks, twigs, tree branches and leaves may be recommended to boost foraging habitat for juncos, chickadees or sparrows. But that’s also a likely place for pesky rats to hide.

You’ll have to feel it out. Try to keep most vegetation reduced within a foot or two of the ground. Also clear away from fences, sides of home & garage walls if possible. Those are rats’ favorite places to lurk.

Like with all these backyard habitat management tips, use them as part of a dynamic, integrative system. For example, having a single debris pile may be part of your personal habitat goals. Perhaps you’re trying to attract scratching crows, thrushes, towhees or robins. Keep it properly spaced from your fences and buildings.

Then monitor: If later you notice a rat burrow forming underneath it, you can temporarily move or disassemble it until the issue improves. 

Eco-Friendly Rat Control.   

Drive thru vs. Organic farm

Understandably, folks are reluctant to reduce bird feed. Especially when we’re not actually seeing rats or hearing them in our walls.

You can think of the difference between stopping at the drive thru vs. making an organic salad.

Sunflower seeds provide birds a gratifying fat and protein boost like a greasy burger would for us. In contrast native plants provide a variety of insects, berries, and seeds that provide birds good nutrition and a balanced diet.

More frequently, Portland rat control professionals are having to bring homeowners bad news. Norway rats are ever-increasingly extending their permanent burrow systems. Now these burrows are more commonly entering folks’ crawlspaces from underground. Once burrowed in, they’re difficult or impossible to keep out and usually have to be continuously monitored & controlled with traps or poison.

To prevent lethal rat control with traps or poison, it’s our responsibility to start by limiting rats’ access to food outside.

Balancing Bird Feeders vs. Rat Control

Mind nature’s delicate balances in the backyard environment. Managing things as naturally as possible is usually the best bet.

If you’re in the Portland, Oregon area and would like some advice or help managing rodents in & around the home, don’t hesitate to contact Pest & Pollinator today.

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