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How to feed the birds without feeding the rats?

I have a lot of birds in my garden and last winter in the morning I put out a hanger with one fat ball. I watched the birds eat and the fat ball was gone by afternoon. I put a new fat ball in the next morning (no food out overnight). I also have a bird bath that I clean daily. On the third day I put the new fat ball out, went inside to make coffee to drink whilst watching the birds eat their breakfast ..... and then I saw it. A huge rat had climbed up the tree out on the limb and was hanging off the feeder eating the fat ball. Do rats normally come out in the day time? I rushed out and it took it's time getting down and running off. I left the feeder up for the birds but I saw the rat (same one?) back again an hour later. So I took the feeder down and when I asked about I was told to stop putting food out for a few days so the rat would move on. I put the hanger out again about 2 months later as it was really cold and I wanted to help the birds. Same thing happened again. So I stopped putting the feeder out for the rest of the winter.

Here we are a year later and for Christmas I was given a lovely bird feeding table. I put it out with a chopped up fat ball and the birds loved it. Then 2 days later I saw a large rat on the bird table. I cleared the remaining food and cleaned the area and stopped putting food out for the last 2 days. The birds keep coming back to the area but I've also seen a rat on the empty bird table. 
Any ideas of how I can keep feeding the birds without attracting a rat? I am keeping the area clean, only put out one fat ball per day which (if left to the birds) is gone by late afternoon so there is no food left out overnight and I have tried moving the food to different locations. I'm not sure what else to try. This/these rats are coming out in the day time and even when me and my large dog are about. I have no idea where the rat/s are coming from as I don't see any droppings or evidence of a rat and I've only seen them when I put out the bird food. Any ideas?
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  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 11,253
    You can't stop the rats appearing but you can prevent them from climbing your bird table and getting to the fat ball.  I use 2.5mm galvanised wire from a garden centre to run between the house wall and some trellis about 4m away with the feeders hanging from the wire, so there are a few feet of bare wire that the rats would have to somehow cross before they reach any food.  It works (not for squirrels though!)
    For your bird table, you may be able to put a baffle on the pole/post/stem (depending on design) which stops them climbing up.
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • Thanks BobTheGardener! Using a long wire is a good idea. I'll have a look today at where I could connect the two ends. I'll also look for a baffle that could work on the table or maybe putting in a pole. 

  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Scariff, County Clare, IrelandPosts: 7,201
    Squirrel-proof bird feeders will exclude most rats (though not baby ones, if they can get access to the feeder via a hedge or tree).  We now don't have squirrels but do have rats living in our dry-stone wall, and they can't get at the food in the feeders.  Our squirrel-proof feeders are the sort with an external cage with around 1" mesh size, with the feeder inside; the only disadvantage is that it excludes anything of starling size and above, if you were hoping to feed bigger birds too.  In addition, fat-based food is very tempting for rats, and they are a lot less interested in the peanuts and sunflower hearts I now put out.   :)
    "The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life."  Rabindranath Tagore
  • cornellycornelly Posts: 961
    I have used axle grease on the feeder pole to stop squirrels maybe it would work for rats.
  • I use the same method as @BobTheGardener, and it works,try as they might they cannot be tight rope walkers. So my bird table is obsolete now, but I havent seen a rat for a long time. They dont care if its daylight,and are very cheeky taking their time to bimble off.  We dont see squirrels round here.
    The whole truth is an instrument that can only be played by an expert.
  • Thanks Liriodendron! I had wondered if I should consider changing the type of food I'm feeding. I have a resident robin who I am very keen to support as much as possible. He/she quite closely follows me around singing when I'm outside. I put out a nest box for him/her last year and it was used this year. I wake up each morning to him/her singing (loudly!) on the roof point just outside my bedroom window and he/she also sings there most evenings. He/she feels such an integral part of the garden. I also have a male and female blackbird in the garden daily as well as two pigeons. There are several tits and wrens and a few other tiny birds that I can't identify who visit regularly as well. I can't figure out where this rat is coming from. It goes towards the fence and then disappears. It's either burrowed under the concrete floor of my garage (can't see any holes or evidence of rats inside the garage) or it's going underneath the fence but I can't see an obvious point. Did you say rats are living inside your stone wall? 
  • I had the impression rats only came out at night and were shy of people but this rat is fairly bold. I saw it again this morning when I took my dog out. It was on the (empty) bird table. I think I've figured out a way to hang a wire from the garage to the washing line pole otherwise there are too many shrubs in other places. I'll try that first before installing a pole. Thanks for all your help!
  • Squirrel-proof bird feeders will exclude most rats (though not baby ones, if they can get access to the feeder via a hedge or tree).  We now don't have squirrels but do have rats living in our dry-stone wall, and they can't get at the food in the feeders.  Our squirrel-proof feeders are the sort with an external cage with around 1" mesh size, with the feeder inside; the only disadvantage is that it excludes anything of starling size and above, if you were hoping to feed bigger birds too.  In addition, fat-based food is very tempting for rats, and they are a lot less interested in the peanuts and sunflower hearts I now put out.   :)
    This is sound advice.
  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Scariff, County Clare, IrelandPosts: 7,201
    Yes, @wellhellotoyoutoo, the old field boundary wall between our garden and the cows next door, is built without mortar, so has a lot of gaps and holes in it.  I'm hoping that the baby rat which has been running around quite fearlessly will be found by our neighbours' cat, which is partial to a bit of rat for lunch.   :)
    "The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life."  Rabindranath Tagore
  • Rats will come out during the daytime if they are feeding a family of young. I had a similar problem with a rat that climbed the post of my bird table and then hung by its back feet from the edge before dropping several feet to the ground, in broad daylight, despite my cat and dog being around. I changed to a metal feeding station but the rat still climbed the central pole so I bought a squirrel baffle. Around £15.00, very easily attached and 100% successful. Aesthetically satisfactory  My garden is surrounded by Cornish banks and my neighbours had chickens which I could do nothing about. The chickens have gone but the rats are still around.
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