Done correctly, bird feeding will not attract rats. In most cases, rodents seen feeding on birdfood are already present in the area; woodpiles, dense ivy patches, and openings in buildings may provide attractive habitat, while accessible garbage, pet food, fruit trees, or vegetable gardens are common food sources. You may need to address some of those issues to fully deal with a rodent problem. But from the birdfeeding side of the issue, there are two things that need to be done:
- Keep rodents off your feeder
- Keep food off of the ground
We can help you achieve both of these goals and are always happy to discuss your birdfeeding with you. If you know others who are having a negative experience with birdfeeding due to rodents, please recommend them to read these tips or send them to us for advice. We've helped thousands of people feed birds without problems and know what works. Now read on to start exploring solutions—and don’t give up!
- Remove as much rat shelter as possible. Potential hiding and nesting sites around your home include openings in buildings, brush and debris piles, and thick patches of ivy and other ground covers.
- Prevent access to food sources. We place bird feeders where we can see them, so we often see rodents there quickly. But there are many other rodent food sources that we do not watch so closely. Make sure rodents cannot access garbage, pet waste, pet food or stored birdseed, BBQ grills, and vegetable gardens. Fruit-bearing trees can also attract rodents.
1. Keep Rodents Off Feeders
Offer foods they generally don’t want:
- Hummingbird nectar
- Nyjer for finches. Nyjer is a tiny seed which goldfinches will crack open to eat the edible interior; squirrels and rats are generally not interested in this seed. We have heard of rare instances of animals damaging mesh finch socks; we recommend solid tube feeders with feeding ports specifically sized for Nyjer to prevent this.
- Hot Pepper suet or Hot Pepper-treated seed. Birds will not be affected by these foods, but they highly distasteful to mammals. Hot Pepper suet cakes are easily substituted for other flavors, while loose seed or other foods can be treated with liquid hot pepper "squirrel sauce".
For seed, use feeders they can’t access:
- Weight-sensitive feeders shut out rodents. See examples of these feeders, as well as the baffle techniques described below, on ourDefeating Squirrels page.
- A freestanding pole with a baffle will block climbing animals
- A hanging dome baffle will protect feeders hanging from trees
- Most window feeders are safe from rodents
2. Keep Food Off the Ground
Choose good seed:
- Level 1: No fillers
Poor quality mixes with filler seeds that birds won’t eat are the leading cause of rat-attracting messes. Many of these blends are available at grocery, hardware, or pet stores under the generic name of "wild bird seed". Talk with us to identify bad seeds, but generally look for blends with lots of sunflower while avoiding fillers such as milo, wheat, canary seed, and mystery “grain products.” White millet is not a pure filler, as it will be eaten by ground feeding birds, but it should not be the main ingredient in a general purpose blend. All Wild Birds Unlimited seed blends contain seeds favored by our local birds, but even if you are getting your seed elsewhere, you can show it to us and we will give you an honest evaluation of its ingredients.
- Level 2: No shells
Blends such as our No-Mess Blend use seeds that have no shells, such as hulled sunflower chips, to ensure that no waste is left behind (shells may contain some amount of rodent-edible material). Other no-mess ingredients include chopped nuts and reasonable amounts of hulled millet (it should usually not be the first ingredient).
- Level 3: Sunflower chips only
The cleanest seed option is to offer hulled sunflower chips only. Offering a single ingredient means that birds will not pick and choose their favorite ingredient, while sunflower chips are the single most widely popular ingredient among our songbirds.
Other low-mess foods:
- Suet and Bark Butter
- Suet nuggets
- Seed cylinders: our seed cylinders offer many of the same popular ingredients found in our loose seed blends, but are stuck together with gelatin. This means that each seed will need to be pecked off by a bird, so less will simply fall beneath your feeder.
Use low-mess feeders:
- Attach a tray to your tube feeders: We have trays that attach simply to most Wild Birds Unlimited tube feeders, as well as many Droll Yankee brand tube feeders.
- Use Dinner Bells and other feeders with built-in trays. Some feeders are meant to shed seed below for ground-feeding birds. Others are not. If you do not have enough ground-feeding birds to eat the seed that falls to the ground each day, you should use a feeder with a tray.