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Of Mice and Feeders

Meadow Vole © Brent JohnerThe North American bird feeding industry, now a billion dollar enterprise, loves to talk about the many different species of birds you will see once you set up a variety of feeders offering a variety of foods.

The industry also likes to talk about squirrels both as villains raiding your feeders and as reasons to buy more expensive “squirrel-proof” feeders.

What the industry doesn’t like to talk about, though, are mice.

Search the wealth of literature published by the food and feeder manufacturers and their boosters in the backyard bird watching magazine industry and you will find very few references to mice.

Yet as every experienced backyard bird feeder knows, bird food is mouse food. Put out food to attract birds and you are putting out food to attract mice.

And if you are not careful, if you do not pay attention to the principles of basic cleanliness and careful storage, you will also soon be attracting the anger of your neighbours.

I live in a quiet suburb near a major natural area in a large North American city. We are just three blocks from the country and most of my neighbours are just as enthusiastic about feeding wild birds as I am.

Walk up my alley in either direction and you will see more than one bird feeder in nearly every backyard on the block.

Stand in that alley on any day of the year and you will soon see that the whole block is alive with birds. Watch carefully though, especially around sunset, and you will also notice that the whole block is alive with mice and voles.

Now there are mice in every community in every city, town and village in North America, so that’s hardly a surprise. And since we live so close to the edge of our city, we expect to have more mice around that you might find downtown.

But years of bird feeding, years of seed falling on the ground, years of easy, high calorie meals of peanuts and suet, have (I’m certain) contributed to the general health of the mouse population in our area.

Yet it need not be this way. It is indeed possible to feed wild birds without contributing to an explosion in the rodent population in your community. By being aware of the problem and taking some simple precautions, you can attract the wild birds you want to your yard without attracting large numbers of mice.

With more North Americans feeding wild birds today than ever before in history, it makes sense that we pay attention to these details and take care to adopt a set of best practice guidelines now.

It is only a matter of time until people less appreciative of nature than we are raise holy hell with City Hall demanding a crackdown on a popular backyard hobby that has the unfortunate side effect of attracting mice.

Precaution 1 – Food Storage

Store your food in sealed, waterproof containers. Do not simply put the bag on a shelf in the garage. If you do, your garage will soon be infested with mice.

I buy food in 50 lb bags now, so I bought a stack of 5 gallon paint pails from the local hardware store. But even before I started buying food in bulk, I was recycling jars and plastic milk jugs for storing small quantities of bird food.

Precaution 2 – Keep Food Away from Buildings

I learned the hard way not to fill my feeders in the garage. Since it is nearly impossible to fill a feeder without spilling some seed on the floor, I soon had a minor mouse infestation.

I now store my food in weather proof containers outside. I am also careful to fill my feeders far away from my house and garage.

Precaution 3 – Avoid Ground Feeders

Ground feeders are useful for attacting some kinds of birds (such as Chipping Sparrows), but in most cases a large platform feeder stationed near but not on the ground will do the trick just as well.

I admit that I still keep one ground feeder filled with oats and barley to attract White-tailed Jackrabbits during winter months. But in order to reduce its attractiveness to mice and voles, I no longer stock it with the suet cakes rabbits (and mice) have such an affection for.

Precaution 4 – Talk To The Industry

Canmore, AB, a mountain village 90 minutes to the west of where I live has recently passed a bylaw outlawing bird feeders because they attract Black Bears. This is what happens when the industry tries to ignore a problem instead of meeting it head on.

Talk to the industry through your local wild bird food store. Encourage food and feeder manufacturers to adopt a set of best practices guidelines for bird feeding entusiasts. Ask them to include a one page outline of these guidelines in every unit they sell to consumers.

Ask your bird food retailer to sell weather proof storage containers and warn customers of the dangers of sloppy feeding practices. The last thing we feeding enthusiasts want to see are bylaws outlawing feeders because they attract mice or coyotes or bears.

Precaution 5 – Keep it Clean

Going out to fill your feeders is only half of the job. You are not done until you have cleaned up as much of the ground waste beneath the feeders as you can.

Related posts from Nature's Corner:

  1. Be Nice to Mice
  2. Garbage for One is Food for Another
  3. Mouse-Proof Your House
  4. Good Neighbours are Hard to Find

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