Seeing rats on your bird feeder can send people into panic mode, and with good reason.
Just about everybody associates rats with trash, garbage, and waste products. It is embarrassing for friends and neighbors to find rats on your bird feeder.
This works to the rats’ advantage because getting rid of rats is usually a community effort.
The first thing you need to do to keep rats out of your bird feeder is to create an environment in your yard that they don’t like.
In this article, we will tackle the problem of keeping rats out of your bird feeder in two parts.
First, we will go over what you need to do to keep rats out of your yard so they never go near your bird feeder in the first place.
Then, we will go over the ways you can modify your bird feeder so that even if rats get into your yard, they will leave your bird feeder alone.
How to Keep Rats Out of Your Yard and Bird Feeder?
There are some well-known ways of making any backyard rat-proof.
These methods work whether you have a bird feeder or not, but they are especially useful for keeping your bird feeder safe and sanitary.
- Keep garbage in a sturdy container that is sealed with a lid.
- Don’t let bird seed, mealworms, or suet accumulate beneath your feeder. Rats that find food beneath your feeder will try to get into it to look for more.
- Use a baffle to keep bird food from falling to the ground. Don’t hang feeders close to fences or on trees that rats can climb.
- If you feed cats, give them smaller portions several times a day, and keep kitty kibble and dry dog food covered the rest of the time. Rats love dog and cat food, especially the less expensive, dry brands that contain lots of grain as a filler.
- Trim plants that grow next to fences. Rats don’t see very well. They navigate around your yard with their whiskers. They love to have dense plant cover right next to a fence they can feel with their whiskers to find their way from one place to the next.
- If you have a compost pile, make sure it heats up. Keep food scraps out of the top layer of the pile.
- Pick up fruit and nuts that fall to the ground.
- If you have chickens, protect the bottom of their coop with hardware cloth, not chicken wire. Make sure rats can get into their feed or eat their eggs and chicks.
- Keep your grass trimmed. Tall grass makes a home for rats and also for ticks.
- Keep woodpiles elevated, high enough off the ground that you can see daylight. Don’t let rats (and snakes) make their home in your woodpile.
- If you have palm trees, remove dead fronds to keep rats out.
- Don’t try to control rats with cats. A rat that corners a cat sometimes can kill it, and cats are also dangerous to your birds.
- Keep your feeder away from tall trees, statues, and awnings that rats can climb to get to it.
What About Rat Traps?
Rat traps aren’t an effective way to control outdoor rats. Traps only work when rats can’t easily avoid them.
Inside your home, rats like to travel in straight lines with one set of whiskers touching the baseboard.
Placing rat traps along the baseboard, especially in corners, may give them an unavoidable obstacle—provided they don’t escape it when they set it off.
Rats have an excellent memory for hazards. Once they have encountered a trap, and gotten out of it, they never come back that way again.
In theory, you could line the base of a tree or the pedestal of a bird feeder with traps, and rats would have trouble avoiding them.
But rat traps can trap pets and beneficial wildlife, too. Children can get their fingers and toes stuck in them.
And the wind, rain, and foot traffic can move them, so a path up to your bird feeder is available to any passing rat.
Glue traps are completely inappropriate for backyard rodent control. They are a cruel way to kill a rat.
The rat’s feet get stuck in the glue, and it dies of thirst or starvation, or it is eaten by a predator. Dead rats decay and stink. Moreover, glue traps can also trap the very birds you are trying to protect, as well as kittens and puppies.
What About Rat Poison?
There are a variety of chemical poisons for rats, but the most common way of killing rats is with a chemical called warfarin, also known by the trade name Coumadin.
This chemical is an anticoagulant. It inhibits the ability of blood to clot so that rats that eat bait containing it sometimes die of internal bleeding.
Some rats don’t die when they eat rat poison.
Since other rats with which they would compete for food are killed, they reproduce in bigger numbers and pass down their resistance to rat poison to their offspring.
Not just rats eat the poisoned grain used as bait. Putting out rat poison could kill the songbirds you want in your garden, and also make pets and small children sick if they get into it.
Installing Physical Barriers to Keep Rats Out of Your Bird Feeder
A more effective and also more humane way to keep rats out of your bird feeder is to create a physical barrier that blocks rats from the food you put out for your birds.
These methods take a little effort, but they are non-toxic, environmentally sound, and legal, and they work.
These projects require minimal skills, although some of them are easier to complete with two people.
The Squirrel Baffle Method
Squirrel baffles are inverted domes of metal that are designed to keep squirrels from climbing up or down poles to reach bird feeders. They also work if you have a rat problem.
You don’t have to take down your bird feeder to use a wrap-around rodent baffle.
Just open the baffle, fit it around the pole beneath the bird feeder so it is pointed up like a pointed hat, and clamp it in place.
If your bird feeder hangs down from a chain or a pole, you can always install the baffle above your feeder.
The narrow end points up. You want the rat to slide off the baffle, not to get caught in the baffle.
If you make sure the baffle is not connected too tightly to the pole it will tilt when a rat tries to walk across it, and the rat will fall off.
The Pizza Pan Method
Big box home improvement stores all over the country sell tall poles with curved top.
They are called basket hangers, since they are usually used to hang flower baskets.
You’ll need access to a jig saw for this method.
Find a basket hanger sturdy enough to hold your bird feeder at least six feet (2 meters) off the ground.
You will also need a pizza pan, with no holes in it.
Buy two washers with holes large enough to fit over the bird feeder pipe. Pick up two clamps, the kind you use to attach a new nozzle to a garden hose.
You will also need some 100-grit sandpaper. Buy an epoxy kit. If you don’t have a bird feeder to hang from the pole, you will need that, too.
Cut a hole in the center of the pizza pan large enough for the pole to pass through. This will usually be 3/4 of an inch (or 18 mm).
Using a jig saw with a metal cutting blade, trim off the raised edge of the pizza pan.
This is to keep rats from finding something to hold onto and vault themselves past the pan.
When you have cut off the rim of the pizza pan, sand it down so rats won’t have anything to hold on to.
Put one of the hose clamps about two-thirds of the way up the long end of the basket hanger, so it will be about four feet (1.3 meters) off the ground when you place the pole in the ground. Tighten the clamp.
Slide the pizza pan onto the pipe.
Slip the second clamp onto the pipe and slide it down to the other side of the pizza pan.
Tighten the second clamp, but just until the pan spins easily on the pipe. You want the pan to spin, so rats will throw themselves to the ground if they try to climb on the pan.
Place the basket hanger on the ground and attach your bird feeder. Use epoxy to hold the bird feeder in place at the end of the basket hanger.
The pizza pan method also works when you have a bird feeder on a pole extending horizontally from your deck or house.
If the pizza pan will be oriented up and down, be sure to secure it tightly with two clamps,
If Your Bird Feeder is Near a Deck or Hangs from a Tree
Sometimes rats can use a pizza pan or a squirrel baffle as a landing pad if you hang your bird feeder from a tree, or below the awning of a deck.
This isn’t a problem you can’t overcome.
Just omit the top clamp from the pizza pan. This will make the pizza pan unstable horizontally. When a rat lands on it, it will just slide off and fall to the ground.
This won’t harm the rat, but it will keep the rat out of your bird feeder.
Keeping Rats Out of Window Feeders
One way to keep rats out of window feeders is to use window feeders that attach to window glass with suction cups.
You will need at least a foot of slick glass beneath, above, and on either side of the feeder to keep rats out.
Don’t get mad at a rat for being a rat. Eating everything in sight and making a mess is just what rats do.
Keep your backyard clean and trimmed, and put up barriers between them and food, and they will look for other feeding grounds.