Feeding birds in winter is pleasurable as the seed brings a variety of non-migrating birds into the garden throughout the season. However, where there is seed, there are rats or field mice. By mid-winter those rodents are competing for the seed along with the chickadees, cardinals, and blue jays. There are safe ways to ensure rats and field mice are kept away.
Many people put poison out, but this will also kill the birds that scavenge the ground around the feeders. It’s also a danger to squirrels, and the occasional chipmunk who didn’t stock up on enough seeds and nuts in the fall. Poison will also harm your pets, and if you let your children into the garden to play in the snow, they could come into contact with it. Laying out poison, even if it’s isolated in a way that only rats and field mice can find it, is not a safe way to eliminate the problem.
While letting your cat loose on the mice, you’re also letting him loose on the birds. Domestic cats are predatory and each year they kill millions of birds in the US. If your cat likes to go outside in the winter, it’s a good idea to leash-train him and take control when he’s prowling in the garden. Consider your cat before you consider feeding the birds in your garden.
A hanging feeder is ideal. It can be moved around the garden and hung from different arbors or trees every few days. If you have a standing bird feeder, ensure it has a metal pan below the feeder to collect the seed droppings. If you see rat or mice evidence in the form of snake-like tracks in the snow, you’ll know the seeds are ending up on the ground. Feeding the birds once in the morning without filling the container to the brim will keep away rodents at night. It’s also a good idea to keep the area clean to ensure there are no seeds on the ground.
Wean the birds off the seed in early spring. Gradually reduce the amount of seed you leave as well as how often you leave it. Birds find plenty of food during the warmer months and it’s better for them to find food on their own.
The best way to eliminate a problem with rats is to eliminate the seed. Bring birds into your garden by planting lots of native trees and shrubs that offer them the food they love. There are many suppliers of regional native plants. A simple search online will give you some good choices. Replacing feeders with native shrubs won’t bring rats or field mice into your garden and you will have created a space your birds will enjoy throughout the year.