How to get rid of the backyard rats without getting rid of the squirrels?
October 16, 2010 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way to eliminate rats from our back yard without eliminating squirrels?

For 10 years we've had a bird feeder in our yard and it's attracted squirrels, but we got an anti-squirrel bird feeder. We love the squirrels (they're cute and fun to watch), but we don't want them getting the bird seed. We feed them hazel nuts.

All of a sudden we have rats as well. They can't get the bird seed either, but we don't think they're cute and fun to watch.

Is there a way we could eliminate the rats without eliminating the squirrels?

This is not a rats-in-the-house problem -- strictly (so far), in the back yard.

I don't want this turn into a squirrel vs rat competition: I know they're both rodents, We should like them, etc., etc. We just happen not to like rats and we want them out. We also want to go on feeding the birds and occasionally the squirrels.

I'm thinking of live-trapping everything, and selectively releasing the squirrels on our property, and the rats to wherever rats go. I'm very tempted by the BB gun solution, but really, really don't want to go there, so that's off the table.
posted by feelinggood to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe rat poison? Set it out at night, when rats are active, bring it in during day when squirrels are active.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:06 AM on October 16, 2010

I think if you took away the birdseed for a while (a month or 2), that they would go elsewhere since there wouldn't be any food.
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:22 AM on October 16, 2010

If you put rat poison bait stations along your foundation walls, you will have a very good likelihood of attracting rats and almost zero likelihood of the squirrels coming by. Rats have very poor eyesight and travel along walls and in contact with other physical barriers. If your bird feeder is close to your house other other lines of rat-travel, simply re-siting it to the most open location in the yard might also help.

I'm not sure how well the live trapping alternative will work for rats, frankly. They are smart little bastards, and not only will they learn to avoid or defeat traps based on their own experiences--they will learn from watching what happens to other rats!
posted by drlith at 8:23 AM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Also, your "and the rats to wherever rats go" points to another concern with the live-trap approach, which is that there is not really a good, or possibly even legal, place to just go "rehome" live wild rats.)
posted by drlith at 8:30 AM on October 16, 2010

Rats tend to use different paths at different times compared to squirrels. I would use rat traps (the falling bar ones), they are cheap effective and humane. All you have to do is put them out when it gets dark and then bring them in before dawn for a few days. Keep them on the ground and away from where you see your furry friends. Use a walnut tied with string and smothered with peanut butter for bait. With live traps you have to deal with a live angry rat, there is really no good way to deal with a live angry rat. I always resist the urge to use poison for fear or secondary poisoning to a neighborhood cat, dog, predatory bid ect.
posted by Felex at 9:20 AM on October 16, 2010

You could always put up both birdfeeders simultaneously?
posted by Blasdelb at 9:43 AM on October 16, 2010

Rat poisons can affect dogs, cats, raptors, and whatever else might feed on a dying or dead rat. So there's that.

If you have ground cover in your yard (like ivy), clear it; rats love it and will hide, nest and travel in it. Since rats are (mostly) nocturnal, you should also clean up as much of the birdseed that falls on the ground as possible, and don't leave nut detritus out, either. Yes, every day, before dark. Tiresome, I know. But by reducing places for rats to hide and hang out, and sources of food, you will discourage them from coming around without risking unintended harm to other animals.
posted by rtha at 10:18 AM on October 16, 2010

Adopt an outside cat. Squirrels can easily escape cats, but cats kill rats. You won't have the usual cat problems (fur, dander) with an outside cat, and there are dozens of cats that need rescuing on any given day at the pound.
posted by musofire at 10:22 AM on October 16, 2010

If you've got rats in your yard, I'll bet you at least even money you've got rats somewhere in your house, especially if you live in an urban area with closely-spaced housing. We went through rat hell about 6 years ago, and it was time consuming and expensive to get rid of them and keep them gone.

Yeah, yeah, harmless wildlife, whatever. I didn't want the fucking things anywhere near my house, and I freaked out when the friend connecting our gas dryer informed us that the entire crawlspace under our house was Rat Club Med (our furnace is down there, and the ductwork made handy Rat Highways, with lots of insulation to provide very cozy Rat Condos).

We had to get rid of the bird feeder entirely as part of our rat eradication efforts. Even if they can't get in the feeder, they get what the bird knock out onto the ground, or what gets left behind in bird droppings. The company we hired to do the killing and clean-up said it had to go and stay gone. If you want to attract birds, put in bird-friendly plants.

We also still use the closed bait stations along the perimeter of the house and yard, and snap traps in the crawlspace, though I think my husband has found only one rat carcass in the last year. This is after the freakin' fortune we had to pay to have all the insulation completely removed, the entire crawlspace meticulously cleaned and sealed off, and new vapor barrier, insulation, etc, installed. There's no way to "rehome" a wild rat, unless you just mean "make it someone else's problem". Believe me, you're not going to cause rats to go extinct by killing off the rats who are invading your yard.

An outdoor cat might be a solution if you don't mind it doing the same thing to the local bird population you're hoping it'll do to the rats. And rats love feces, so cat poop will likely add to the backyard buffet the rats are currently enjoying.

Sorry to be such a downer, but you really, really don't want to give the rats any excuse or invitation to hang out in your yard. Trust me, I speak from experience.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:44 AM on October 16, 2010

Oh, and we still see LOTS of squirrels, running along the fence, etc. Even our crazy dog can't chase those things away.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:46 AM on October 16, 2010

I have to agree with Lulu. When you get rats, you really want to get them out asap. In my case, rat poison was the best thing to use. Live traps work to a small degree, but where the hell are you going to relocate the damn thing? Just kill it and dispose of the corpse properly. And they learn pretty quick to leave traps alone, anyhow.

A cat or a ratter dog works ok. They were more into killing the rats than eating them, preferring the reward. Which also was a sign that poison was also on the table as an option.

The poison I put in a 2'-3' length of PVC pipe, about 3" in diameter, wedged against the corners of the wall with a cinderblock. This keeps the cats and dogs out. I also had to bait the rain gutters, since the rats had an affinity for roof travel. There is the possibility of collateral damage, but with some care you can minimize the possibility.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:19 AM on October 16, 2010

With live traps you have to deal with a live angry rat, there is really no good way to deal with a live angry rat.

I have a friend who bagged a rat and held the mouth of the bag over the exhaust pipe of his car.

AAAAAAAAAaaaaaagh (I say)--but he said it was very quick. I would imagine it's quicker and less horrible, at least, than drowning them or squishing or whatever.
posted by torticat at 11:20 AM on October 16, 2010

My husband shoots any rats he sees in the backyard with an air rifle. But you have to be a pretty good shot -- and willing to sit in the backyard for long stretches of time -- for that to be an option.

We will not use poison because there are so many dogs in our neighborhood (including our own) and we have chickens in our backyard (which is probably why we have rats in the first place).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:41 AM on October 16, 2010

Ditto the cat suggestion. Especially a young cat with lots of energy. If you adopt an older cat they may simply not care. We used to have a mouse problem until we got our cat. Of course, you have to put up with the occasional "gift" of a dead or dying mouse/rat that he will bring to you.
posted by jcmilton at 1:54 PM on October 16, 2010

See the cat suggestion sounds great, but then you have a cat problem. Raccoons should take care of them. But you are going to need dogs to eat the raccoons, and then gorillas to eat the dogs and then what do you do with gorillas? Three words...winter cold snap.
posted by Felex at 3:07 PM on October 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would forego putting out feed until the rats leave... putting out the seed and nuts while you try to get rid of them is like throwing gas and water on the same fire....

Poison trades live rats for dead rats, and pose a danger to other animals.

If you can stop feeding to convince them to leave, that's the best route ...
posted by HuronBob at 7:11 PM on October 16, 2010

If the rats are in your yard, they will eventually make it into your house. Especially, with cold weather around the corner. I second getting a good, young, cat, but also set rat traps in your house. In the kitchen, under the sink cabinets, and drawers. And if you have a basement, all over, in every corner. Good luck. Rats are the worst. Eww. Gives me the creeps just thinking about it. I recall getting up to feed the baby one night, and watching a big ole honkin rat actually open the cabinet door under my sink and walk around my kitchen. You don't want that.
posted by wv kay in ga at 11:09 PM on October 16, 2010

After a neighbor tore down a horrific shed, I briefly had a rat problem. I used poison, and that worked. Unfortunately, it also "worked" on at least one squirrel that I found. I felt bad, but that's the cost of infestation.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:03 AM on October 18, 2010

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