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Rats Love Dumpsters Way More Than Bird Feeders

Dear Bird Folks,

My 95-year-old mother has fed birds in her yard for years. I’m convinced that her love of birds is what has kept her going for so long. She has recently moved into a nursing home where she was told that bird feeders would not be allowed. When I inquired why they were not allowed the people in charge told me that they were afraid the feeders would attract rats. Is that true? My mother never mentioned seeing rats. What can I say to these people to make them change their minds?

– Tim, Elmira, NY


That’s great news, Tim,

No, not the part about your mom not being able to have bird feeders. That stinks. But I’m thrilled to learn that feeding birds has kept your mom alive and well for 95 years. Do you know what that means? That means I can finally stop doing all this silly exercising, drinking carrot juice and eating low-fat ice cream. (Eating low-fat ice cream is like being dead already.) With all the bird feeders I have in my yard I should live until at least 149, and maybe longer if my neighbor’s cat doesn’t put a contract out on me. (Snowball and I don’t get along.) But really, nobody should tell your 95-year-old mother what she can and cannot do. At her age she shouldn’t have to listen to anybody, except for maybe a 96-year-old. And if that 96-year-old happens to be a man, she only has to pretend to listen.

Recently I’ve had several calls from people who no longer can have bird feeders where they live. However, most of these calls came from people who made the mistake of moving into prissy condo developments. How bizarre is it that the folks who live in condos can have things like say, guns, but not bird feeders? What were the Founding Fathers thinking? There clearly was a need for a bird feeder amendment in the Bill of Rights. I sure hope your mother didn’t vote for James Madison because he and his buddies totally dropped the ball on this one.

I talk with hundreds of people every single day and rarely does anyone mention the “R” word. (Actually, I don’t mind hearing the occasional rat story. It’s a nice break from the squirrel complaints.) Do rats eat birdseed? Yes, of course they do. Rats eat everything, except for maybe “tofurkey,” a nasty meatless dish that many vegetarians won’t even touch. But, think about this. Where are most rats found? (Don’t say law school, that’s too easy.) They are found in big cities and most big cities have very few bird feeders. It’s our garbage and sloppy life-style that keeps rats fat and happy, not bird feeders. If you want to see rats, don’t look for a bird feeder; find a dumpster. Dumpsters are rat magnets, including the ones at those fabulous condos.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox for a minute and offer a few suggestions that you can present to the powers in charge of your mother’s new home in hopes of changing their minds. The best way to rat-proof a feeding station is to never use that awful “mixed seed.” The birds will toss most of that crap onto the ground where who-knows-what creature will come along to clean it up. Instead, offer hulled sunflower seeds. The birds love hulled sunflower, plus there is no waste and there are no empty shells to fall on the ground. You should also add a tray to every feeder. That way if a bird does drop a few seeds they will land in the tray, where another bird, usually a cardinal, will quickly eat them. Also, keep in mind that rats can climb metal poles. If the people you are trying to convince are total musophobics (rat phobics), tell them that your feeders will have squirrel baffles on them as well. Baffles will prevent any creature from climbing up. With no seed on the ground and no way for anything to get onto the feeder, there will be no rats. Just don’t look in the dumpster. I’m a bit surprised by the anti-bird feeder campaign in your area. I have many customers who buy feeders and birdseed for relatives living in nursing homes. Several of the facilities actually encourage bird feeding. Just recently I read about a place in Bellingham, WA that was even advertising in the local paper for used feeders. Watching the birds was one of the seniors’ favorite activities, right after bingo, sing-a-longs and kickboxing.

The whole idea of denying older people a bit of pleasure is really unsettling. They are not prisoners who have been sentenced to the Rock for some crime against humanity. We are talking about aging folks who have had to give up their neighborhoods, their yards and their homes. They shouldn’t be forced to give up their birds just because some director is a musophobe, who probably watched Willard or The Piped Piper one too many times.

Rats are rarely a problem at bird feeders and they’ll never become a problem if a few common sense precautions are taken. Don’t be afraid to show those bigwigs this column, Tim. Hopefully it will change their minds. But if it doesn’t work, have them call me. Rats will be the least of their problems.