In our backyard, there is a five-foot pole that arcs to create a hook. We’ve hung a birdfeeder from it and have enjoyed watching the local critters – many varieties of bird and several squirrels. On Wednesday i had the unpleasant duty of doublebagging the remains of one of the squirrels, apparent moments after the little guy’s head was flattened by a passing motorist.

While there are plenty of crows in the neighborhood and a growing contingent of starlings, these last two have more or less not chosen to waste valuable garbage-picking time on such dry, tasteless food as birdseed.

This morning as Viv and I nursed our coffee, I was standing in the rear window of the house, wondering why there were no birds clustered about the feeder. From a bush at the side of the house strolled a small black rat with rather large ears. The rat nosed about under the feeder for a moment as I got Viv’s attention. She immediately began making horrified exclamations.

As we watched, the rat hopped onto the pole and quickly, surefootedly, clambered all the way up it as we shrieked in dismay. The rat peered about for a moment and then ran down the pole and across the lawn to the bush.

A few moments later, he returned and this time halted partway up the pole before climbing up and over and down onto the bird feeder. From the roof of the feeder he jumped back to the pole, edged down a bit, and then leapt onto the feeding tray.

As this was happening, the usual cast of birds and squirrels were there, but keeping a consternated distance as the rodent fed. Eventually he ran away.

As it happens, I recently finished reading Rats, a personal natural history of the rat in the context of Manhattan. One point I recalled was that if you see a rat out in the open in broad daylight, it means there’s a problem in the rat population, such as a food shortage or overpopulation. A bit of googling confirmed that the rat we’d seen was of the species known as the roof rat, or black rat. The species prefers to live in trees, bushes, and attics. We have not had the pitter-patter of little rodent feet above us in the dark watches of the night, so presumably the nests are in some of the plentiful trees in the neighborhood.

Further googling regarding trapping outdoor roof rats led to dispiriting news, including the predictable problem of not trapping squirrels and birds in your newly-mounted tree-borne traps. I believe for today I will ignore it and hope it goes away, although my impulse this morning involved purchasing a BB gun.

4 thoughts on “Rat

  1. it might be worth engaging in some more subtle forms of warfare.

    cayenne pepper in the feed can help deter them: birds, lacking lips and other soft tissues, don’t mind the heat.

    various treatments made from crystallized predator droppings (coyote and cougar) might help. They don’t smell (to us) but send a clear “keep out” signal.

    greasing the pole with something weatherproof can also be effective, not to mention entertaining.

  2. Ugh!

    A couple of summers ago I discovered a good-sized sewer rat in my toilet. Vector Control informed me that Portland’s aging concrete sewers allow for easy rodent access, and that the only remedy was to flush it.

    Needless to say, I now always look before sitting on any ground floor toilet.

  3. I bought that Rats book, but could not get past about page three without freaking out. Maybe it’s easier to read when you don’t actually have to ride the NYC subway every day.

    A couple of weeks ago, coming home from Brooklyn, we were on a platform that was infested by giant GIANT rats. Must be summer.

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