As much as we all enjoy encouraging wildlife to our gardens, few of us want to encourage rats and mice and the diseases they bring. Although there are poisons on the market that can effectively get rid of any rat population swiftly, they can also be eaten by hedgehogs and enter the food chain, with a devastating effect on local wildlife. If we completely rat-proof a garden, sealing holes in the fence and tidying away piles of sticks and dried leaves that could provide harbourage for rats, we also get rid of potential homes for other animals.
How can we discourage rats and mice whilst still ensuring that the garden is safe and inviting for the birds, frogs, hedgehogs and invertebrates we want to see? Let’s look at some ideas:
1. Think about where you hang your bird feeders
Rats and mice fear larger mammals and birds of prey and dislike going across open areas where they are more likely to be caught, so position your bird feeders in the middle of your garden so that the rats have to expose themselves to predators as they go in search of food. Feeders hung from branches will also be easier for rats to access, so a feeding pole in the middle of the garden is a better option all round. Keep the feeders away from the house to ensure that the rats aren’t tempted inside, particularly in warmer weather when you may have the doors open. Ensure that the house itself is well sealed against rats and mice, remembering that they can get in through the smallest opening. I use Raxit products to pest-proof my manufacturing space.
2. Keep the area below the feeders clean
Position the feeders over patio rather than grass to make sure it is easy to sweep. Rats are more likely to come to your garden at night (if you see some in the day it is likely there are more after dark) so ensure the area below the feeder is swept clean at the end of each day, and put food out first thing in the morning so that the majority is gone by bedtime. Although rats will climb a feeder if they know food is up there, they are more likely to be tempted in by food on the floor.
3. Collect uneaten food
Try positioning or hanging a container below the feeders (the plastic dish we often use underneath indoor plants is a great option, or a galvanised bin can be placed below the bird feeders). This will keep uneaten food off the floor and away from rats. It is also a good idea to put out the right amount of food each day, without overfilling your bird feeders.
4. Use the best quality food
Cheap bird food mixes contain less popular ingredients (wheat, maize and dried peas) which the birds will kick onto the floor, encouraging rats. Choose a husk free blend made up of quality ingredients (our bird food is ideal!) to reduce wasted food ending up on the floor.
5. Store your food carefully
If you are storing bird food in a shed or outhouse, ensure you use a well sealed, galvanised metal bin so that rats can’t chew their way through. Fill your feeders over the bin, rather than in position, to reduce the amount of food that ends up on the floor.
6. Protect your feeders
A squirrel baffle will also deter rodents – place one above and one below the feeder to keep the rats away. You can also position an upturned washing up bowl towards the bottom of the feeding pole to prevent access.
7. Use your planting
Rats dislike the smell of mint, so mint plants in containers around your feeders (they spread wildly when planted directly in the flowerbed) could help, as can catmint plants. Alternatively make up a spray using peppermint oil and water and spray around the pole feeder daily to discourage them.
And if you’re desperate….
Rats dislike capsicum (found in chillis) but birds cannot taste it, and some people find that both rats and squirrels can be deterred using bird food laced with chilli flakes.
Rats avoid our garden thanks to our dog, who is very efficient at killing rats and mice when she sees them (and she always looks like such a gentle soul), but I know they are a nightmare for some families. Do you have any tips for discouraging rats in your garden?