Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Rat Resistant Bird Feeder

(c) 2011 by Tom King

Our squirrel resistant feeder is 2 stories up.
Seattle has a century and a half long history as a major U.S. seaport and the rats to prove it. When you move to King County and go to hang your bird feeder, someone will inevitably warn you not to because it will “attract rats”. Sheila and I decided we wanted to see the lovely songbirds of the Pacific Northwest outside our window, so we decided to do a little research.

There’s a reason for the warning. Waste birdseed and feeders DO attract rats. Not only that, but pigeons, seagulls and crows can overpower your bird feeder chasing away the pretty songbirds and covering your back yard with bird poop and feathers. There are an awful lot of crows in Washington for some reason. Pigeons too.  People call them “rats with wings”.  Near the coast, the seagulls are also problematic. But you don’t have to give up your pretty birds, especially if you take care to keep your feeder clean and plan your feeding program carefully.  Here are some alternatives:

  1. Suet feeders are an easy alternative.  They generate far less mess than regular type seed feeders because suet comes in solid blocks of fat embedded with seeds, dried fruit and bits of protein. The block is placed in a wire cage and the birds peck at it, extracting the yummy bits.  Buy the low waste types of suet that have low percentages of millet as part of the mix.  Suet feeders attract both small and large birds.
  2. Buy low waste birdseed with a low percentage of millet and a lot of large seed types like cracked sunflower.  The oil-rich seeds will attract larger birds like jays, cardinals, and woodpeckers. Avoid seeds with a lot of filler like millet, milo and sorghum that the birds will cast aside to get at the tastier seed.
  3. Buy a squirrel proof feeder.  The weight of a mid-sized rat will close the squirrel feeder guards, making it difficult for them to raid the feeder.  Hang the feeder more than four feet above the ground.  Buy a long metal hanger that suspends the feeder well away (8 feet if you can manage it) from nearby structures.  Rats can climb a wooden wall or tree quite easily.  So don’t depend on vertical walls to slow them down.  There are some lovely “spinner” type feeders. These work by tripping a switch which starts a motor that will twirl the feeder and spin the rodents, whether squirrel or rat off the feeder. This is almost as entertaining to watch as birds feeding.
  4. Buy a Niger thistle feeder.  The screens are difficult for mice and rats to penetrate and the thistle seeds attract finches, juncos, towhees, buntings and the like. 
  5. Roll pine cones in peanut butter and birdseed and stick a few bits of fruit between the seeds of the pine cones.  Hang them on long lines from hangers where it will be difficult for rodents to get to.  Garlands of popcorn can be hung from the feeder. 
  6. Hang the bird feeler with a roller wire.  This kind of feeder hanger setup is easy to fix up.  Simply string a wire between two trees or the house and a post. Hang the feeder in the center and cut two pieces of 1-inch PVC pipe at least two feet long. String the wires through the pipes and hook the ends. When the squirrel or rat tries to climb out on the wire to get to the bird feeder, the pipe will roll under them and drop them to the ground. The tighter you can stretch the wire, the more loosely the pipe will roll.
  7. Maintain your feeder.  Don’t overfill it.  Try not to put more than the birds will eat in a day or so.  Rats need time to find food and work primarily at night.  Clean up any spillage off the ground.

Store your bulk birdseed in a sealed metal container. Rats chew through plastic in short order. Keep the area around the seed container cleaned up so the rats won’t be drawn to that area.


King County Health Services:  Bird feeders and Rats (Pamphlet)

Bird Feeders: FAQs - Wild Birds

Nature’s Corner:  Of Mice and Feeders


  1. very useful information you shared with us..thanking you..

  2. I went through this article thoroughly and found very useful one.. thank you!!