As the ground starts to harden and natural food sources become tougher to come by, it’s very important to put out food for birds. 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 two, and whatever kitchen scraps they can get their claws on.

A brown rat eating food put out for garden bir...

A brown rat eating food put out for garden birds in snow in England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Enforcement Team at East Staffordshire Borough Council receive 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 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 the RSPB’s 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.

Golden ‘rat’ rules

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Enforcement Team also receive many complaints about rubbish left in gardens such as bags of domestic waste, sofas and mattresses. The Council would advise that these are removed as soon as possible as they provide a nesting ground for rodents and other animals which may be roaming.

Councillor Robert Hardwick, Deputy Leader for Regulatory Services, said: “Each year we deal with hundreds of complaints regarding rubbish in back gardens and on private land and serve notices to clear and maintain the land and keep it free of refuse and litter.

“A key priority is to focus on creating a cleaner, safer community for all. Food waste will act as an attraction to rodents, whilst soft furnishings and material can act as bedding, especially in the winter months. The work that the Enforcement Team does is vital in preventing rats. I would ask our communities to work with us by ensuring their gardens and land are maintained”.

Should anyone require further information, the team can be contacted at or 01283 508576.

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