A chewing noise
October 17, 2011 9:18 PM   Subscribe

What's that chewing noise in the attic?

My brother and I own a 110-year-old two family. We live upstairs and rent out the downstairs apartment. The house is is in good condition. Tonight for the first time I heard loud chewing noises coming from the ceiling, seemingly from just over an inerior wall.

It sounded like something smallish but not too small gnawing on wood vigorously and my first thought was "squirrel," just because I very recently closed a summer cottage for the year and found a dead squirrel decomposing upstairs. (ruined weekend.)

Squirrels don't chew on wood, do they?

I saw nothing upstairs where the noise seemed to be coming from even after moving things around where the noise was and shining a light around under the eaves. I also let my rather large would-be hunter of a cat up there and he came down after a while calm and bored.

I left the light on and came back down and a few minutes later heard it again. Both times it lasted about only a very few minutes.

The tenants are supposed to have no more that three cats and no rodents, rabbits, guinea pigs because of previous odor problems but I Know they disregrd this and have at least one guinea pig, and possibly other rodents, as pets.

I will take another look upstairs in better light tomorrow but what do you think it could be? Squirrels? Escaped gerbils? Confused beavers?
posted by longsleeves to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
Squirrels will certainly chew.

Assuming it's not an escaped pet, my guess would be squirrels, rats, or mice. This is the time of year when they leave the fields, forests, and yards and look for warmer quarters. In any case, you have a rodentia problem!

As for the cat... well, not all cats are great hunters.
posted by sbutler at 9:24 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

When this phenomenon occured at my girlfriends house, it was a mouse.
posted by mreleganza at 9:28 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a similarly aged house with a chewer in the attic. We put rat poison and some traps up there, haven't heard anything since. Nothing in the traps. We've never found any evidence of chewing, either. (Well, Mr. Artychoke hasn't. I was already scared to go in the attic because of the scary 12 foot attic ladder. Heights plus rats is right freaking out.) I've seen both rats and squirrels walking up the electrical wires to houses around here. Shud-der. Squirrels kept eating my mom's house's lead vent stack things on the roof, so that's something to check. I don't think we could hear that, though.
posted by artychoke at 9:40 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could be carpenter ants. Had an infestation once and it definitely sounded like chewing (even thought they dont really chew).
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:19 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

We had rats in our walls once (ugh, it was horrible horrible horrible), and it sounded like a chewing sound.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:19 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where is the house?

When we had a particularly wet season, I think we had possums in SoCal. At least we hoped they were possums. Probably, they were rats. Wet season. It happens in the best neighborhoods.

On Long Island when I was a kid our neighbors had squirrels.


I know you want to blame the neighbors, but I would blame easy access and whatever local flora and fauna are present in your area.

The solution is sealing off the attic from outside. Professionals do this by vacating your guests and then using screens at all access points. Do this.
posted by jbenben at 10:47 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The house is in Connecticut.
posted by longsleeves at 11:33 PM on October 17, 2011

Oh there is a robust population of squirels in this area. Guess It's them. I'll be looking for where they're getting and decide what to do.
posted by longsleeves at 11:57 PM on October 17, 2011

Squirrels will make nests inside your house in the winter if they can sneak in. They are bastards like that. I've had almost a dozen in my lifetime. Good old-fashioned rat traps (the big ones) will make quick work of them if you can find out how they're getting in. Don't be squeamish just 'cause they're cute. Note if you have concrete walls (like cinder blocks) in your basement or garage that they can scale these things with the deftness of a spider. My bet is they're getting in through the garage.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:11 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

We had that noise when we had a family of black rats move in. They're less like the traditional norwegian rat (the kind people keep as pets) and more like a giant mouse. End score: Cat: 1, traps: 3, plugging the hole with expanding foam: game over. We wouldn't have known where they were getting in if my daughter hadn't luckily seen one of them squeeze between the trim and the basement wall of an egress window. If you haven't seen evidence of them (they poo and pee everywhere) in your living space, see about putting traps in the attic. I pop a bag of microwave popcorn and put two traps at the entrance to the bag (one trap = rat will slide it over to make room), they can't resist free popcorn.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:08 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wasps make quite a lot of noise harvesting the wood for their paper nests.
posted by Akke at 5:23 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

My guess would be squirrels, too. Do you see squirrels climbing on the house? (Their most active outdoor times are just after dawn and late afternoon. I've found that their most active chewing-on-the-house times are before dawn and after dark.)

You need to get them out of there for two reasons: they will wreck your house, and the more squirrel babies they make in their new home, the more squirrels who will think your house is a place to live. It can become intractable.
posted by gjc at 6:05 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

We got a squirrel in our attic a few years ago. Because none of us wanted a dead squirrel in the attic, we caught it in a Hav-A-Hart trap, and released it across town.
posted by schmod at 6:33 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Happened to me once when I was a kid and it was thousands of wasps. They broke through the ceiling when I was on a rare out of town trip.
posted by marxchivist at 6:43 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

They might have been gnawing on electric wires, which, obviously, could be very dangerous. Do whatever you can to get them out of there.
posted by mareli at 6:58 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Squirrels or rats are the most likely attic denizens. Rat poison will work against the rats and they supposedly go outside seeking water and die there. I don't know if squirrels will take that bait. Trapping is an option but then you end up with either a dead squirrel in a trap (yuck) or a live one which you must quickly drive miles away (put newspaper down under the cage). The easiest way to get rid of them humanely is to find where they enter and establish a one-way door. Finding the entry point can be a challenge though. Squirrels were getting into our attic through a narrow gap between our chimney and the soffit. One would not have thought a squirrel could get through the gap it looked so small, until one was seen doing it.

The one-way door is made with thick screening stapled to the house at the entry point. In one example, a small flap is fashioned to allow the animal to exit but not enter. You can bias it closed with a rubber band or spring to improve its one way function. Give them a week or so to get out and then seal it up. Here are some fancier one-way squirrel doors.
posted by caddis at 8:38 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Raccoons and opossums are also potential candidates for invading an attic. When we had problems, I trapped & released 1 of the former and 2 of the latter. If there's more to the noise than just a chewing sound that might give you more clues as to what it is and you should also check to see if there's any scat up there to ID your critter before you try solutions targeted to one thing or another.
posted by pappy at 8:50 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wasps make quite a lot of noise harvesting the wood for their paper nests.

I experienced a loud chewing noise for an extended period in my bedroom when I was a teenager. If I banged on the ceiling it would stop for a bit and then start back up again. The past time I hit the ceiling with my hand it when through what was pretty much a thin skin of latex paint into a LARGE paper wasp nest in our attic. The wasps came flowing out like water, and I ran out of the room closing the door behind me.

Obviously you'd want to be careful finding something like that in your attic, but it would be easier to find than a rodent.
posted by Big_B at 1:47 PM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Squirrels will chew to get into your nice cozy house, where they will proceed to make a horrid mess. Hav-a-hart traps, baited w/ peanut butter, and take them at least 5 miles away.
posted by theora55 at 2:18 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone for taking the time to answer. I did not hear any chewing or whatever last night. I went around the outside of the house and looked for any holes or gaps etc. anywhere and didn't see anything glaring, but it's hard to see up under the eaves of the roof. The area around the chimney looks sound.

Another look in the attic in the daytime was unrevealing.

I'm pretty sure it was a squirrel just because there have never been rats in the neighborhood and I've walked a lot around town and never saw one thank you Jebus. Squirrels on the other hand are numerous and it appears one got in, did some gnawing, (maybe inside the floor, it sounded like it was just over the ceiling,) and hopefully left.

If I hear anything again I'll have to get a pest control pro on it I suppose.
posted by longsleeves at 10:54 AM on October 19, 2011

Since this is technically unresolved I'm just going to favorite everybody who's answered for now.
posted by longsleeves at 11:01 AM on October 19, 2011

While I am not suggesting you have them, rats are *everywhere* and anywhere there is human activity. They often live in shrubs, especially near schools, restaurants, farms - you name it. In our case, the rats lived in the bramble behind our house, and got in through the garage and an air vent. This was out in the country. I've also seen them in more urban settings.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:05 AM on October 19, 2011

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