Although I am surrounded by all types of wildlife, including robins, blue tits, wagtails, tree creepers, nuthatches, crows, magpies, sparrow hawks, buzzards, goshawks, rabbits, grey squirrels, weasels, stoats, hedgehogs, woodpeckers, pigeons, deer, pheasants, heron, foxes and sparrows, amongst many other small birds, I never shoot any wildlife. I enjoy shooting paper and metal targets whereby the spent lead is collected in a container within the target. More on wildlife with photos and videos in my Wildlife Pets article.
I moved to the countryside 20 years ago and although I have fields, it is my garden that becomes the battleground in my never ending war against rats and squirrels. Nature takes care of the fields as all wildlife is in balance; the buzzards, sparrow hawks, goshawks, owls, weasels, mink, stoats and foxes take care of the vermin like mice, rats, squirrels and help keep the rabbit population at bay. In the garden, I keep the feeding of wildlife in balance so there is no need for me to shoot anything, including the rats, squirrels and rabbits.
The rats always appear in October, if there is a food source, and if you are not careful they will breed and remain forever. Many people will use a .22 PCP air rifle or a .22 springer air rifle to exterminate rats but rat infestation is an uphill battle. They very soon get the picture and revert to night activities whilst hiding down their rat holes during the day. They breed (like rats) depending on their food source. So to exterminate them, you remove all of the food source such as peanuts and seed for the small birds and after a few days, you lace the rat holes with blocks of poison, making sure that you throw the blocks far down the holes to ensure other wildlife cannot reach them. Poison blocks can be purchased from equine food stores like Harbro but only domestic strength; if you want to purchase the stronger rat poison, you will have to take a training course and become certified to use it. Typically, farmers undertake such courses as they store large food stocks for their animals, which encourage rats.
You can shoot rats which is challenging but as sure as night follows day, they will outbreed your efforts as long as there is a food source. Even bird feeders are a problem as the blue tits and finches usually pick at the nuts and seed which causes bits to fall on the ground - great for ground feeding birds but also for the rats. Rats love to climb trees and bushes and can easily jump to a nearby bird feeder on a stand in the garden. Once you have eradicated all the rats the bird feeders can go back out, but during winter when food is scarce, the rat wars can begin again.
The tree rat known as the squirrel is adorable and they stand on the patio outside and look into the house with those pleading eyes for you to throw them some nuts or even a biscuit. Squirrels are another pest if there is food about, and they love to chew on garden wooden furniture, so if you are infested by squirrels, purchase metal furniture for the garden.
You don't have to shoot squirrels, just make sure that the bird feeders are squirrel proof and they will gradually head off to find a more lucrative food source. If you feed a couple of squirrels by throwing out nuts, all you do is encourage them to breed up to the food source and soon there are lots sitting outside on your patio, along with the rats, waiting to be fed. More on squirrels in the bird feeder section below.
Sitting on top of a gnawed wooden chair - those pleading eyes -
It is a huge mistake to feed squirrels because they breed like rats if there is a constant food source
A young squirrel inside my woodpecker friendly, squirrel proof bird feeder -
I caught this little chap a couple of times by quickly popping a plastic bag up and around the feeder. Trapped inside the feeder he squealed like a stuck rat but eventually I let him free and away he went at a fast rate of knots, unharmed. I figured he would never come back - not a bit of it, he was back the next day and inside the feeder again. After catching him again, I gave up and let him do his thing. Thankfully, he outgrew the feeder as he fattened up on the nuts.
Bird Feeders & Stand
Bird feeders only require to go out in very bad wet or cold weather, especially during the winter months because in normal spring and warm summer weather, insects and bugs are in good supply PROVIDED your garden has a decent cover of wild flowers, bushes, and especially fir trees which harbour such creatures. I am fortunate that I have a garden pond which draws to it all manner of wildlife and even mice who live underneath it in the sand ballast. A barn owl spends many a night on a nearby tree, hunting mice at my pond which is lit up by the outside night lights.
I go through about 8 bird feeders a year, and I have tried every type of bird feeder you have ever come across in the shops and online. The ones that have no secondary outer strong wired (multiple squares) frame to deter squirrels, last about 5 days until a determined squirrel gnaws at the thin wiring and strips out a small section at the bottom of the feeder and let loose all the nuts which drop to the ground. The solid single metal shell type with cut holes never gets damaged but the squirrels know exactly how to break and extract the nuts through the holes and you end up filling it every day. A squirrel's claws are like little needles which they use with great effect for extracting nuts. As for plastic feeders, forget it, squirrels love to open them up.
I tried the double skinned bird feeder type and thought I was onto
a winner. These feeders come with
a straight frame of hard wire
squares surrounding a thinner wired inner core round feeder which to all
accounts, seems squirrel proof - wrong. When a newly born squirrel,
finally emerges from
the drey, some 20 feet up a tree, it
follows its mum to the garden and the nut feeders. Old mum is too large
to fit inside between the outer and inner rings of wire mesh but no
problem for the youngster as he is about a third of her size. Okay, that
problem only lasts for a short while because he grows very quickly but he makes a hell of a mess to the
inside core of the feeder in the process and all the squirrels get a
share of the fallen nuts. (see squirrel in feeder above)
The final solution is a tricky one because rats and squirrels climb trees and bushes and rats can easily get inside a double wire skinned feeder, they are also great jumpers and can easily clear about a foot to a bird feeder. To make matters worse, rats and squirrels can easily climb up the bird feeder stand. Then there is the counter problem, if you place the bird feeder on a metal pole stand, you must plan for the flight path of a hawk who will use a bird feeder location to hunt small birds. If you use a double skinned bird feeder of the straight variety, there is usually a large gap between the inner and outer frame - so you will find that the most beautiful of birds, the woodpecker will have great difficulty is getting his head in to reach the inner casing which contains the nuts.
It is important to use a feeder that can accommodate a woodpecker getting his beak to the nuts but this feeder below lasted only a few weeks before the squirrels managed to break the porcelain base.
There is no easy answer to feeding little birds without the intrusion of rats and squirrels.
An earlier effort - feeders placed further away from the fir tree. This failed because the squirrels could still get to the feeders but the finches stayed away, due to their escape flight exposure. The hawk had worked out how to hunt them as they flew from the feeders. Mum squirrel can still jump from the fir tree -
I hung double skinned bird feeders with nuts and made sure they had a narrower top and bottom which are angled in so that the woodpecker's head can gain easy access through the outer frame to the inner nut core section whilst still having the ability to watch out for hawks and make any escape.
I put the feeders almost into the fir tree so that the small birds could enter through the fir tree and make their escape from a hawk by going back into the fir tree. I had to accept that the squirrels would continue to destroy my feeders and I will have to replace them when necessary. In an attempt to reduce squirrel damage to feeders, I hand feed the squirrels at dawn and at dusk with just enough nuts to fill them up. If they get too many nuts they will bury them in the garden and encourage rats.
Fat balls can be placed in double skinned fat ball feeders and seed in double skinned feeders with inner plastic tubes to hold it. Blue tits love to chuck out the seed they don't like whilst searching in the feeder for seed they do like. Ground feeders such as robins, thrushes, blackbirds and some finches will gobble up the bits that fall out of the feeders.
However, too much seed and/or nuts lying on the ground can encourage the rats back, and once again the feeders have to be removed, to reduce the food source.
Its easy to blast away at rats and squirrels in the garden with an air rifle and have some fun in the process (if you enjoy killing them) but if you like the other wildlife all around you, and especially when they get to know you - why would you want to scare them away. I cannot hold a squirrel or even a rat to account if there is food left lying on the ground. Unfortunately, just like the wildlife balance in the fields, I have to balance the garden and the way I feed the wildlife there, lest the rat and squirrel wars continue.