Leaving out food for our backyard birds can also attract a bevy of other hungry wildlife to the yard. We’ve talked about deer, bears, raccoons and squirrels, so who else might be problematic? I’ll give you a hint. These furry little critters are excellent at chewing, can squeeze through very tiny holes, and reproduce like wildfire. Yep you guessed it, the rodents. Mice and rats. Let’s take a look at how to keep rats away from bird feeders, as well as mice, and the problems they cause at feeders.
Why are mice and rats bad to have at your bird feeders?
- They can empty your feeders in a day
- They can carry diseases
- If they think your yard is a great food source, they will want to stay close by and will try and get into your house
- They can get into your birdhouses, and rats will potentially eat bird eggs
- They can attract feral cats and hawks to your yard, which can also be bad for your songbirds
Did I mention they will try and get into your house?
When looking for shelter, warmth and good places to nest and have young, mice and rats will look for any opportunity. Your garden shed, garage, A/C unit, basement and home will all be targets. Mice can fit through holes the size of a dime and rats the size of a quarter (approximately), so it can be very tricky to find and seal every nook and cranny.
Let’s look at methods you can use to cut down the probability of mice and rats making your bird feeders their personal kitchen.
How to Keep Rats Away From Bird Feeders
1. Keep the ground clean
Mice and rats most often will be initially attracted to the area by coming across spilt seeds underneath your feeder. Birds can be picky eaters. I’m sure you’ve seen them rummaging through your seed selection, tossing seeds aside, looking for the ones they like the most. Or just downright being messy eaters. Collections of shells and spilt seeds can look like a buffet to rodents. Keeping this under-feeder area clean is key. You can periodically sweep up the excess. Or try one of these methods
- No Waste Mixes: These mixes use seeds with shells removed and sometimes fruit and nut pieces. A higher percentage of seed gets eaten at the feeder, and what little falls to the ground is usually quickly snatched up by doves and other ground feeding birds. Lyric, Wild Delight, Wagner’s, and Kaytee all make waste-free mixes. Or if you want to stick with just feeding sunflower, you can try hulled sunflower chips.
- Seed catching trays: For many of the nicer mid-priced tube feeders you may be able to purchase an attachable seed tray that snaps right onto the bottom of the feeder. You can also get trays that fit under your feeders, right on the feeder pole, or that attach to your feeders and hang underneath.
2. Use the right kind of feeder
If you’re just tossing seed on the ground, or using any kind of platform feeder, you might as well just put out a dinner plate for the rodents. Increase the difficulty by choosing a tube or hopper style feeder. Feeders made to be squirrel proof are often good choices as they tend to be made out of stronger metal and are harder to chew through.
Weight-sensitive feeders such as the Squirrel Buster can also be a good choice for rats, who are a similar weight to squirrels. This will likely not work for mice however, as mice are small enough to have a similar weight to song birds.
3. Protect feeders from above
Mice and rats are good climbers. Wood poles and trees are no problem for them. Even other rough surfaces such as stone and brick can be fairly easy for them to maneuver. They can leap out a few feet horizontally, and fall from two stories high or more without being hurt. So if you think hanging your feeder from a tree to keep it off the ground will keep mice and rats away, think again.
Your best bet is to position your feeder pole away from trees and overhangs so the rodents cannot walk across branches and drop down, or climb close-by tall objects like deck posts, trellises, pergolas or the side of your house and leap over to the feeder.
If you must hang your feeder from a tree, try and install a baffle ABOVE your feeders. This large size smooth plastic dome, especially paired with a slender tube feeder, will make it hard for mice and rats to gain a foothold on the dome and reach the feeder. Just remember, this won’t work if they can jump to the feeder under the dome, so placement is key.
4. Protect feeders from below
Rats can jump three feet in the air and mice as much as a foot. So between jumping and climbing, you want to protect your feeders from below. Using a metal pole instead of a wooden one will help a bit, as the smooth metal will be harder for them to gain footing on and climb.
5. Offer foods they aren’t interested in
Rodents aren’t usually a fan of thistle seed. However not all birds enjoy it either, so this may not be a good option depending on what bird species you are hoping to attract. If you do try thistle, it’s best to use a thistle feeder which is made specifically for the small shape of these seeds. I recommend going for metal rather than the fabric socks you can sometimes find as mice or rats may chew through these to see what is inside.
Another thing mammals are not a fan of is spice. Animals are sensitive to hot peppers just like we are, while the birds are not affected by it at all. Buying hot pepper suet, hot pepper seed mix, or adding hot pepper oil to the food will cause some burning and irritation that makes your food not very appealing.
6. Protect your seed supply
Are your bird feeders well protected but your seed supply isn’t? Mice and rats can chew through bags of seed in no time. Store birdseed inside if possible, or in containers they can’t get into. Tight lids are a must. If they are very determined they can chew through hard plastic, so metal or glass containers would be safer choices. A metal garbage bin with a good lid would be an option, or something like this smaller portable metal pail.
7. Eliminate Ground Cover
Rodents don’t like open ground with no cover, it leaves them vulnerable to predators like hawks, owls and larger mammals.
- Keep very short grass under the feeder, or replace grass with stone or mulch.
- Keep grass short in the whole yard and keep landscaping tidy instead of weedy and overgrown
- Put feeder 30 ft out from any shelter if possible (the woods, your house, deck, etc). They may be more skittish about having to travel far out from cover.
- Trim the lowest branches off your shrubs. Birds will still be able to use the shrubs for cover but the rodents won’t have the low branches for protection.
This is a method I’ve seen a few fellow birders in the community try and some have great success with. Mice and rats supposedly don’t like the smell of strong mint. So spraying problem areas with a peppermint oil can drive them away, and is non-toxic. Using a yard sprayer, mix a 1:10 or 1:20 ratio peppermint oil to water. Spray your deck, house foundation, ground under the feeders, lower part of the feeder pole – basically anywhere you have seen them or suspect them to be. Reapply as needed.
If this works for you let us know and perhaps try planting some peppermint around your yard as additional deterrent.
If you are at your wits end and nothing is working for you, you may want to try trapping. I would highly recommend hiring a professional service to handle this for you. They will have the most knowledge of how to handle your specific situation and protect your house and yard from an infestation.
But if you are dead set on a trap (no pun intended), a highly recommended one is the Victor Electronic trap. They have separate versions for rats (Victor Electronic Rat Trap) and mice (Victor Electronic Mouse Trap). They provide an electric shock for a quick and humane death. No poison or inhumane periods of suffering. They are constructed so you don’t have to see the carcass and it is fully contained so you don’t even have to touch the animal. Pick up the trap, take it to the woods or your trash bin and tip it to dispose of the rodent body. No poison means you can leave the carcass for other animals to eat if you wish.
How NOT to get rid of mice and rats
These are commonly suggested solutions that we think cause more negatives than positives.
Poison can cause the mouse or rat to suffer before dying. These guys are just trying to survive like all creatures, so if you must resort to killing them the least we can do is be humane about it. But poison don’t just affect the rodent you are killing. It can have a devastating affect on other local wildlife. After the mouse or rat eats the poison, it can take days to die. Meanwhile it gets slower and more lethargic, and becomes even easier for hawks, owls or neighborhood cat to catch. Then the predator gets sick and usually dies as well. Rodenticides have become a huge problem for predatory birds like owls, and if they are feeing their young a whole family can be wiped out.
2. Glue traps
Glue traps are just terribly inhumane. The rodent becomes unable to free itself but doesn’t die. They end up starving to death, dying of panic-induced heart attacks, suffocate if their nose becomes stuck, or try and chew off their own body parts in an attempt to break free. These are just horrible.
Cats can be very good rodent hunters. Having a few yard cats will certainly help you cut down on the problem. But – the cats can become ill from ingesting parasites the rodents carry. Also, the same cats who chase the mice away are also going to stalk and kill your songbirds. So that really defeats the purpose here.
Cleaning up after rodents
If you know rodents have been in the area and are doing clean up, always wear rubber gloves. You’ll want to disinfect all surfaces. Spray any urine or feces with a bleach solution and use paper towels to dispose. Don’t sweep because this can contaminate your broom. disinfect all surfaces. Let your bird feeders have a nice hour soak in a dilute bleach solution, then wash with dish soap and water and allow to dry.
Mice and rats can be just as nimble and tricky as squirrels. You might have to use several of these techniques to keep your feeders rodent-proof. Your best bet will be to isolate the feeders as much as possible from any surfaces they can leap from, and use baffles above and below.