Cooper: Rats!

“Come here, I think I see something in the bird feeder,” called husband. A close look revealed four tiny ears, two on each head. Rats!

“Come here, I think I see something in the bird feeder,” called husband. A close look revealed four tiny ears, two on each head. Rats!

No, literally, two rats had crawled up the pole holding our largest bird feeder, lifted the lid and were enjoying a banquet of bird feed.

It was the rat equivalent of a human sitting in the center of a smorgasbord table. I imagined them laughing and high-fiving over finding such a largesse. Disgusted husband, on the other hand, went directly to garage, grabbed a two-by-four and headed to the feeder.

He lifted the lid which caused the rat pair to leap out. Determined husband aimed the two-by-four at the rats and tried pounding them to death. The rat pair made it to safety.

We did find two dead rats under the wood shed so warrior husband may have struck a blow but he rather thought the rats were poisoned somewhere else. Poisoning, although effective, was not an option we could bring ourselves to choose.

We tried barriers. Husband draped the pole with plastic and we didn’t see rats again for days and only when one apparently overcame the plastic barrier and once again feasted inside the feeder.

Out came the two-by-four and although irate husband showed no mercy, he didn’t get clever rat. Next husband fixed the feeder and blocked entry which seemed to work until the next rat sighting a few days later.

We observed a rat scurrying up the pole, taking feed from the bird tray and running back down and into a place under the ground cover. Oh, oh, not a good sign since rat seemed to be bringing food to others.

Sure enough, the next day smaller rats were playing in the wood pile. The family was out on a sunny afternoon having a great time. Birds didn’t seem to mind and I sort of enjoyed watching the kids play, but husband was not amused.

He headed to the Co-op and came home with vicious and allegedly humane rat traps. Twice, we caught the foot of a bird which amazingly did not injure the bird, but did cause husband to rig something birds would not enter.

It worked. Two large rats could not resist peanut butter and died as a result. Victorious husband seemed not to care that at least one was a mother.

The rat ‘scoop’

I wondered why now after nearly 18 years in this home, we were seeing rats. The only experience I had was a few years ago when I picked up what I thought was a large grey stone that turn out to be a stone cold stiff dead rat.

We know that rats go where food is. People like us who feed birds or put out food for pets are inviting the critters. Hey, free food here; come and get it.

Rats, like most of us, will move if their home is destroyed. I lived in Seattle when the landfill site, better known as the dump, was cleaned up in the Interbay area of the city.

Soon newspaper articles began appearing about the rat invasion in the Magnolia and Queen Anne areas of the city that were on either side of the Interbay area. Needless to say there was considerable uproar in those communities.

Still the question, why now, why here? We’ve been feeding birds for more than 15 years. My question also was fueled by having heard the stories of three others complaining about rats, including one bitten in a rat incident in the center of town. I even asked my go-to person for everything, my hair cutter, who confirmed that rats were bad this year.

I inquired with Environmental Health Services of Clallam County Department of Health. Were there more rats and, if so, why? I was pleased to get a prompt reply from an environmental health specialist who said there was no data to support an increase in the rat population; adding they always have been in the area.

Guess it was just our turn.

Using the library at my fingertips, I explored the county website and found it full of rat references and I clicked on several of them. If you are interested, it is the place to go.

The first thing I learned was that rats are either native or non-native. Non-native are called Old World rats and immigrated to this country in ships that came from the Old World.

The misnamed Norway rat was not from Norway but someone said they stowed away on Norwegian ships and the name stuck. Another name for these critters is sewer rat as opposed to roof rat.

Sewer rats are best known for carrying and giving away bad diseases through bites or fleas, the most famous being the plague. The rat can average 16 inches in length with nearly half of that in a very unattractive tail.

Rats will eat anything we eat and a lot we won’t like garbage, animal droppings and other rats. I began to realize why they have such a bad name.

You dirty rat!

“You dirty rat,” the 1930s mobster snarled, in a movie. Being called a rat implies the dirtiest, the most dishonest and disreputable person that humanity can produce.

The characterization came to the mind of one disgruntled reader a couple of columns ago. I happened to mention that I planned to write about the rat invasion until I got caught up in a website that opposed the school bond. He claimed I was implying that the website founders were rats. I can understand why he may have thought such a thing, but that wasn’t what I was calling them.

At the time rats had just invaded the sanctity of our bird paradise and we had taken the step of emptying the bird feeders and the birds left after a few confusing trips to the feeder. It seemed lonely without the bird busyness and conversation that occurs at bird community meal time. I struggled but came to the conclusion that we had to kill the rats for doing what came naturally in order to have birds.

Rats don’t seem to live communal lives. They befoul the food supply, leave the mess for someone else to clean up and eat each other. Come to think of it, disgruntled reader may be onto something. The way rats live and die could be a metaphor for all kinds of societal ills.


Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.


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