Dealing With Rats

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Q: We have a rat problem. We have tried all types of different rat baits and poison pellets. Most of them are never even touched. We have both indoor and outdoor aviaries. The rats are a problem in both of them. We’ve also tried traps. After the first one or two are caught, they stop working. With your own large aviaries, you must have fought a battle or two with rats. Have you figured out a way to beat them?

A: Yes. There is an old expression that we have all heard, “If you can’t beat `em, join `em.” With rats, the key to their control is to join them-and then beat them. There is more than one lesson to be learned from the Pied Piper of Hamlin. If you play their song, they will follow you wherever you wish to take them. Therefore, the first thing you must do is learn to play their song.

Rats are intelligent, social mammals that have some of the basic desires that humans have. After all, they have lived alongside us for thousands of years and have evolved to enjoy the things that are found in a human habitat. They want a warm, dry and comfortable place to live. They want a clean place to eat and prefer fresh, wholesome foods. They love great places to play. If you find a clever way to supply these basic luxuries, you will have some very important information. You will always know where your rats sleep, what they are eating and where they are playing. With this information, you can stage a very successful attack.

Let’s look at their first big desire: a warm, dry and comfortable place to live. When people have problems in an outdoor situation, the first thing they often do is eliminate every place rats can live. This is a good idea that is always taken too far. The result is that you no longer have any ideas where they are sleeping. It is interesting to note that aviaries whose grounds are kept the tidiest are usually those that have the biggest problems with rats in the birds’ nest boxes. Rats don’t usually fight off a pair of conures for the right to sleep in their nest box if there is a better alternative. If you put small enough wire around your cages so that they can’t get into the nest boxes, they will begin to burrow into the ground. If they are forced to burrow, they will not only erode the ground, they will also erode your control over them.

The best thing you can do in any given situation is to build some rat hotels: nice, dry places to live, with a bunch of clean straw or clean rags for bedding. A few rectangle plywood boxes would work fine. Make them big enough so that whole families can move in. Place a pair of 2- to 3inch holes on opposite ends of each of the long sides. Make a hinged and latched lid to the box, and drill some small ventilation holes. Whenever you have “guests” check in at night, you can close off the entrance holes to the box in the morning. This allows you to walk off with them and work your will. If you choose to submerge the box in water, the ventilation holes will serve their real purpose. By the way, rats are perfect hotel guests and never eat in their rooms, so don’t bother to try to poison them there.

The next thing on the list is a clean place to eat and fresh wholesome foods. Rats always prefer to eat from a clean dish rather than scavenge from the dirty ground. In fact, one of two secrets I learned from an old-time exterminator was that nothing will attract them quicker to your bait than a clean, white plate.

The second thing I learned about was pre-baiting. The only way to ensure an effective long-term eradication program is to first make your rats dependent on the same foods that you later plan to use to carry the poison to them. For example, if you plan to use poisoned corn to eliminate them, you should first feed them unpoisoned corn for a period of time. This will allow all of them to acquire the habit of eating it regularly. This will never happen if they see that the first few that try it become ill and die. This is what is meant by pre-baiting. Once you make the decision that they have developed the habit of regular indulgence, you can substitute the poisoned corn. You must periodically substitute healthy corn for the poisoned corn so that they can never figure out what it is that is making them ill. In most aviaries, the ideal bait is sunflower seed. Most exterminator supply outlets will carry some type of liquid poison with a mineral oil base. These can be sprayed via a plant mister directly onto sunflower seeds in order to make the seeds poisonous. If you are feeding sunflower to your birds, then you can assume that your rats have already been pre-baited with sunflower. Make sure that the white plates of poisoned seed cannot be reached by the birds or have their contents fall into the cages. By the way, rats open sunflower seeds differently than parrots and humans. Although they are similar in that they also open it the long way (splitting it from the point to the base), they do not open it along its natural seam, where the two halves of the shells meet. Instead they split the seed in half by biting through the center of the shells.

This all brings us to the fact that rats love a great place to play. You only have to look at the habitat trails that are sold in pet shops to exercise and entertain pet rats and hamsters in order to realize how they like to play. They get a real thrill by running through tubes. Place some long lengths of 2- or 3inch plastic pipe around the perimeter of your aviaries. Leave 1 to 2 feet of open space between the end of one pipe and the beginning of the next. Make sure that you stabilize the pipes with something like a few stones or small pieces of wood tucked under opposite sides so that they will not roll from side to side. Before you know it, your guests will be running around your aviaries through the pipes. The best place for your white plates of poison treats are the open areas between the end of one pipe and the beginning of the next. If you are worried about the overspill of the poison food out of the plates, you can try placing the bait directly in the tubes.

The last thing to remember is that after you have gotten rid of all your residents, your aviaries will be open territory-a perfect place for a new family to move in. Leave your hotels set up. Every once in a while, throw some healthy unpoisoned sunflower seed near the entrance to the hotels. If you begin to see seeds split open the wrong way; you will know that you have had new guests arrive.