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Rat's the way to do it!

Last modified: 26 November 2011

Bird cake hanging from tree

Bird cake hanging from a tree

Image: S Perry

As the ground starts to harden and natural food sources become tougher to come by, putting out food for birds is very important.  But it’s not just birds that favour a free meal; unwanted guests like rats are partial to a helping of seed, a peanut or three, and whatever kitchen scraps they can get their claws on.

Tom Waters, one of the RSPB’s wildlife advisors, said:  “We have lots of calls from people who’ve spotted rats in their garden and are worried they will have to stop feeding their garden birds.  But as long as long as a little common sense is exercised, you can keep the birds in your garden happy and well fed without ever having to see another rat again.

"If rats start to infest an area, people sometimes have to use poisons to get rid of them, which while perfectly legal, can be a danger to other wildlife if not used properly. Prevention is always better than cure so following our simple steps will be better for people, for birds and for rats.”

To make sure it’s only our feathered friends that reap the benefits from the food we leave in our gardens, the RSPB is asking people to follow a few golden ‘rat’ rules this winter.

Six golden ‘rat’ rules

#1 - Don’t put out too much food There’s only so much your garden birds can eat in a day, so it’s better to feed them little and often and if food hasn’t been eaten then simply don’t top it up. Putting out excessive amounts mean the intended recipients won’t be the ones who finish it off.  

#2 – Keep it moving Try to avoid putting food in the same place each day.  Moving it around will confuse rats, but your garden birds won’t be outwitted.

#3 – The only way is up If possible, place food off the ground.  Hanging from a tree in a feeder or on a bird table are simple ways to keep food out of the reach of rats.  Attaching bird seed trays under feeders can also help to stop food going on the floor.

#4 - Keep it clean Rats aren’t afraid of tucking into mouldy leftovers so regularly clean your bird table or any space where you leave out provisions, and never allow old food to accumulate. 

#5 - Special feeders Anti-squirrel bird feeders are also great for preventing access to rats. Some feeders are surrounded by ‘guardians’ that thwart larger animals’ attempts at getting at the food, while others are weight-activated and stop food being dispensed when a heavier than usual visitor arrives.

#6 - No overnighters Making sure no food is left out overnight can be one of the simplest ways of avoiding rats.  Rodents tend to go on the prowl for food at night, whereas birds won’t eat after the hours of darkness, so if you leave scraps out after that it’s likely there’ll be some very happy rodents feasting in your garden while you’re all tucked up in bed.

For more information about the best way to feed birds in your garden, visit

The RSPB stocks a range of safe, high-quality feeders for your garden birds. For more information, visit

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