How To Stop Bird Feeders From Attracting Rats

by | Jan 11, 2021 | Pest, Pollinator

Suspect your bird feeders are 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 bird feeders are notorious for attracting rats and what you can do about it.

In Depth:

How Do I Keep Rats Away from Bird Feeders?

Candidly, the best way to stop bird feeders attracting rats is to replace them with native plants, bird baths and nest boxes.

There are no known repellents that affect rats. Urban rats are adapted to tolerate chili powder, garlic oil, peppermint, cat urine and just about any other foul deterrent you can think of.

And sadly, you cannot exclude rats from your yard. They can climb or burrow through just about anything.

So unfortunately if there is a possibility of bird seed dropped outside, anticipate rats will eventually find and use it.

If you do choose to feed birds, follow these guidelines:

  • Select a feeder with a bottom tray to catch dropped seed. This should help prevent rats from easily hoarding lots of seed back at their nests.
  • Reduce feed and fill 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.

Rats and Bird Feeders

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

Unfortunately in the city these high-density nutrient sources can cause urban rats to thrive. If rodent thieves’ are allowed nighttime access to fattening foods they will breed more successfully.

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

“Well, rats!” 

Quickly, here’s some facts about brown rats, aka Norway or sewer rats. This will help you visualize how bird feeders attract rats.

  1. Norway rats live in burrows underground, approximately 18″ feet deep and five feet long, with chambers for nesting and food storage.
  2. Secondly, they love to burrow down underneath rocks, roots, pipes, foundations, driveway & patio slabs; anywhere they can hide. Burrows are often dug near abundant food sources.
  3. In nature, Norway rats eat seeds, scavenged meat, nuts, fruits, vegetation, insects, grubs and even mice.
  4. In an urban environment, rats enjoy bounties of garbage, litter, compost, dog poop, fertilizer, and fresh kale from your garden. Rats are capable of digesting just about anything with a scrap of nutrient value.

If allowed a regular meal, they are likely to create a burrow nearby and start their shockingly rapid reproduction cycle.

How to Stop Rats Eating Birdseed

A rat reaches sexual maturity in about 5 weeks. The moment they reach maturity they will reproduce. It doesn’t matter if the nearest rodent is their brother or sister. They’re pregnant for about three weeks. Then they have a litter of 8-12 babies, more if conditions are favorable. So this means a local rat population will multiply tenfold every two month period if high fat & protein nourishment and habitat 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.

Which Natural Predators Kill 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. Our human habitat doesn’t support natural rat predators to the degree needed.

Dogs & cats that are natural hunters may kill off a few here and there. However it is clear if our pets provided significant 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.

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 your 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.

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. 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.

Native plants provide food and pollen for birds at the time that they need it the most. You should even consider removing exotic ornamental plants to replace with native habitat. Local birds don’t recognize many exotic shrubs or use them as food or habitat.

In Portland habitat restoration is popular and well-supported by local environmental organizations. If you’re interested in guidance, call us for an Urban Wildlife Habitat Inspection.

Landscaping with Native Plants

When planting native perennials it is the best to select strong, healthy root stock. Ask if the nursery uses organic, regenerative or biodynamic techniques to determine if the soil is healthy and alive.

Beneficial microbes are the key to having healthy plants that grow up fast. Consider calling us for a soil and plant health boosting services. We can help you rapidly restore your ecosystem into a lush habitat for native species like birds.

The best part is, installing native plants will double-down on attracting pollinators and local beneficial insects. In turn they’ll provide an excellent food source for birds and many other pest control services for your ecosystem.

3. Research a Nest Box

A nest box or bird house may not attract birds to your property directly, but can be a great way to enhance viewing. 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 listen to and watch red-winged blackbirds, killdeer, barn swallows, herons, egrets, various ducks, gulls, osprey and bald eagles. Water fowl is my favorite to seek and enjoy watching. 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 a rat’s favorite place 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.

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

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 and poison.

To prevent lethal rat control, we need to limit rats’ access to food.

Balancing Bird Feeders vs. Rat Control

It’s important to 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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