How to Feed Birds Without Attracting Rats

There’s no denying that if you feed birds in your garden, you run the risk of attracting rats. But there are plenty of simple strategies you can put in place to keep the birds happy and keep the rats away. In this article, we are going to show you how.

Do Rats Even Like Bird Food?

Sadly the answer to this is a big “Yes!”

Rats will eat almost anything. But the seeds nuts and grubs birds enjoy are ratty favourites.

There is a myth that if you mix chilli powder or flakes with your birdseed, the birds will still eat it, but rats and squirrels will be put off.

We haven’t tried this with rats, but we did try it when we had a squirrel problem. The birds and the squirrels both loved the spicy seed mix!

It looks like there are no bird foods that you can choose that would not also make a tasty meal for a rat.

Rat Proof Your Garden?

Some people suggest that you can solve the problem by making your garden “rat proof”.

This would involve doing things like blocking up all the holes in your fences, blocking up space under the shed, clearing undergrowth and wild patches, and even putting poison down.

There's no denying that if you feed birds in your garden, you run the risk of attracting rats. Click To Tweet

But rats are part of our native wildlife. So making your garden unattractive to rats is also going to make it unattractive to other wildlife like hedgehogs, frogs, bees and butterflies.

If you’re keen on birds, we’re guessing you like to see other wildlife in the garden too, so maybe this isn’t the way forward?

Rats are Clever and Lazy

Just like humans, rats are very smart and very lazy. They will take the easiest food on offer.

Although they certainly can climb rat is unlikely to waste her energy climbing up to your bird feeder if there is food on the ground.

So it’s not the feeders themselves which attract the rats in the first place.

It’s the food on the ground.

Dealing With Bird Food on the Ground

Bird food will get onto the ground either through spillage of because you have put it there. Let’s look at spillage first.

Stopping Bird Food Spillage.

There are several things you can do to stop food spilling from your feeders.

  1. Choose the right feeder.  If you are feeding small seed such as Niger (loved by finches), make sure you choose a feeder with small holes or a seed catcher tray like this.
  2. Avoid Seeds with husks.  Seeds like sunflower have hard husks which garden birds will discard, before eating the heart of the seed. The husks will end up on the floor, and unlike the birds, rats will eat them.
  3. Choose high-quality bird food. Cheaper mixes may be bulked out with husks and all sorts of other rubbish that birds won’t eat. This ends up on the floor as rat food. Choose a high-quality bird food to minimise waste. It’ll probably work out no more expensive in the end anyway.
  4. Fill your feeders at the food bin. It’s easy to spill bird food when you are filling your feeders. To stop this becoming a problem unhook the feeder, take it to your food bin and fill it there. This way any spillage falls straight back into the bin and won’t become a problem.
  5. Make a seed catcher. If you already have bird feeders without seed catcher trays, there’s no need to go out and buy a whole new set. You can make your own for just a few pennies. Here’s how.

How to Make a Seed Catcher

What you’ll Need

  • Plastic picnic plate, or tub lid.
  • Marker Pen
  • Ruler or something to draw a straight line with.
  • Garden twine or thin wire.
  • Sharp knife.
  • Hanging Bird Feeder.
How to add a seed catcher to a bird feeder

Method.

  1. Choose a plastic tray that is wider than the outer edge of the perches on your bird feeder. I’ve chosen a sweet tub lid, but a picnic plate or the lid from a tub of fat balls would do just as well.
  2. You’ll notice the centre of the tray is marked with a little dimple. Use this as a guide to draw a line straight through the centre, edge to edge of your tray.
  3. Draw another line crossing the first.
  4. Place the bird feeder in the centre of the tray.
  5. Make marks on your lines at the edges of the feeder. This is where you will be making your holes.
  6. Make 4 holes where you have marked your lines. So they will be at the edges of the bird feeder when finished. I do this by heating a Phillips screwdriver over a gas ring. This melts the plastic to make good clean holes with no effort.
  7. Thread the string through the holes to make 2 loops that will fit over the perches on the bird feeder.
  8. Turn the bird feeder upside down. Place the tray on it and fit the string over the perches.
  9. Pull the loops tight and tie the string under the tray.

And you’re done.

The resulting seed tray will catch most of the seed that falls from your feeder. It’s stable enough to support a small bird, but not a rat or squirrel, and it can be easily cleaned.

Bird Food on the Ground.

However careful you are about spillage, if you feed birds in the garden, you will always end up with some food on the ground.

You may even have put food on the ground deliberately to cater for ground-feeding birds like sparrows, wagtails, robins and doves.

Whether your food has spilt onto the ground, or whether you’ve put it there on purpose, there are plenty of things you can do to stop it becoming a rat-magnet.

Get a Ground Feeding Tray

A ground feeding tray will contain the food you put on the ground and can be easily tidied away in the evening.

If you get one of the larger wooden ones you can even position it under your hanging feeders to catch any spillage from them.

Feed Birds at the Right Time

Birds like to feed in the day, and rats generally prefer to feed at night. So one easy way to avoid rats getting at your birdseed is to feed the birds in the morning.

If you put food out in the morning and put out just enough for your garden population chances are there will be nothing left by the evening to attract your local rats.

Clean Up!

If this doesn’t work, you are going to have to clean up.

It’s almost impossible to clean spilt bird food from the grass. So if you need to tidy away uneaten bird food in the evening either site your feeders over a hard surface, like concrete or paving slabs.

Or you can place some plastic sheeting below your bird feeders and simply pick this up and tip any spilt seed into the bin each evening.

Rat Proofing Your Bird Feeders.

Rats would much rather take the easy route and feed off the ground if they can. But if the easy option isn’t available, they may have a go at your bird feeders.

If this is happening, you are probably going to have to abandon tree hanging bird feeders and look at other options.

Consider investing in a pole-mounted feeding station like this one.

You can place this station well away from tress and anything else that the rat might be able to climb up or jump across from.

The pole itself is pretty slippery, so it will be difficult for a rat to climb up. But for extra security, you could add a baffle like this one.

A baffle is a domed or tubular device that goes around the pole of a feeding station, below the feeders. It forms a barrier which stops rats and squirrels climbing up.

You can easily make your own tube baffle, which could be especially useful on a bird table. This video shows you how.

Another option could look at is a window-mounted feeder like this. Windows present a slippery surface which is very difficult for rats to climb up. And while these feeders are generally strong enough to support garden birds, there’s no way they will hold up a big fat rat.

Rat-Proof Bird Seed Storage

If like us you store your bird food outside in a shed or garage you need strong, well-sealed storage containers to keep it in. Metal is best. And the lids need some sort of catch of fastening. A rat will push off a lid that isn’t secured.

And don’t make the mistake of leaving new sacks of food lying around, get fresh supplies straight into your food bins.

A hungry rat will chew through a paper or plastic food sack in no time.

Conclusion: Keeping Birds Well Fed and Rats Away

Watching birds feeding in your garden is a great pleasure, but spotting a rat lunching on your lawn isn’t such a welcome sight.

Bird food does have the potential to attract rats. Follow the simple steps outlined in this article, and you can continue to support your garden birds without attracting unwanted attention from local rats.

Do you have feedback or a question for us? We’d love to hear from you, leave us a comment below.

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7 Responses

  1. Thanks for the ideas. Unfortunately, the rats in my garden can climb pole feeders – vaseline on the pole didn’t help. I also tried plastic catchers and barriers, but they just chewed through them,. They send the young, light ones as the vanguard and they can perch and chew. I tried water buckets all round the bottom of the pole, but they can jump (and swim anyway). We had a lovely large male cat who sat in the garden and watch over the birds as they fed and never chased them When he was very ill in the summer, he lay in the garden and they came to see him (he died of coronavirus in September). He only caught a few rats, which he brought to me live, but sat on a couple by mistake. Yes, we do have hedgehogs – have loads of hedges and woodpiles that shelter birds as well as voles and butterflies etc,- occasional badgers and foxes, so don’t want to use poison,, Traps of various kinds have had no luck. Our cat arrived here and adopted us, was not a wanderer or a hunter, loved the outside and the indoors in the cold and kept a kind of balance difficult to replicate – an earlier cat was a confirmed hunter of everything from rabbits and rats to pigeons and climbed so well she got to nests. I don’t want another cat like her (sadly, run over). Have we all run out of ideas? I think the barbs on barbed wire are too close together – attaching rose thorn cuttings to the pole did nothing, My house is very old, but winter invaders are usually bank voles – I stupidly used horse chestnuts as a moth deterrent in the past and they thought I had set up their winter larder. They know about old plumbing/entry points not on any plans. Am at a loss,

    1. Hello, so sad for you, looks like you have tried everything (not that I am an expert.) I live in a cottage with really old established hedges down both sides of the garden. I used to try feeding the birds, but the rats were living in the hedges & appeared daily (& night times too obviously) which was revolting to watch.

      I was thinking of trying bird feeding again but now I have read your comments I don’t think I will!. I have noticed that at the cemetery I go to (family are buried there) somebody has hung lots of fat balls in wire mesh bird feeders near the graves & I can sit in the car & watch sparrows & blue tits really close – my mum would be loving seeing them 🙂

      Do rats show an interest in fat balls or is it worth a try?

  2. I am feeling sooooo guilty. We are having a terrible period of snow, ice, and cold weather.We still have two weeks left according to forecast. I just spent thousands of dollars getting rid of a mouse infestation and cleaning attic and crawlspaces. The crews found tons of birdseed in the attic. They have repaired points of entry but said no bird seed should be put out. I have junipers and evergreen trees but don’t see any berries. I live in the middle of cropland which makes mice a huge problem. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Eric

      I would use hanging feeders with a seed catcher tray underneath and take them in at night. And if you don’t feel even that is safe you could at least make sure there is always drinking water available.

      Best of luck!

  3. My neighbours either side of me have said that they have rats and because I have bird feeders in my garden and feeding the birds I’ve tried everything I know of except to stop feeding them I’ve moved the feeders away from the fences and bushes I have the trays under the feeders to catch any food I bring the feeders in at night but still have rats in our garden and both our neighbours gardens I don’t know what else to do I don’t want to stop feeding the birds but I don’t want to upset the neighbours either,

    1. Hi Maureen,

      Have you seen the rats? Are they bothering you?

      In reality, they are everywhere, we occasionally see one in the garden. It wouldn’t stop me bird feeding unless there was an infestation or they were coming too close to the house.

      It sounds like you have a good, clean bird feeding routine going. I doubt you are attracting rats. And if you were, they wouldn’t be bothering your neighbours unless there is something in their gardens which makes them worth a visit. If not bird food, then untidy bins maybe?

      Best of luck!

      Clare

  4. I have all the same problems, the only answer I have found to rats , without risking killing other animals is an air rifle with a telescopic sight

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